We all know that Iran has managed to alienate itself from much of the West with its pursuit of nuclear weapons and fanatical hatred of Israel and the US. It might come as a surprise to some — but not all — how much they have alienated themselves from other Muslim nations as well. The traditional Persian rivalry with Arabs has always been a factor, but a new report from Reuters shows just how much the mullahcracy has alienated itself from even fellow Persian Muslims:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exudes impatience, saying Tehran is barely a year from a “red line” for atomic capacity. Many fellow Israelis, however, fear a unilateral strike, lacking U.S. forces, would fail against such a large and distant enemy.
But what if, even without Washington, Israel were not alone?
Azerbaijan, the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic on Iran’s far northern border, has, say local sources with knowledge of its military policy, explored with Israel how Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack.
That is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan – notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews – such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.
It could also have violent side-effects more widely and many doubt Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would risk harming the energy industry on which his wealth depends, or provoking Islamists who dream of toppling his dynasty, in pursuit of favor from Israel.
Yet despite official denials by Azerbaijan and Israel, two Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.
Azerbaijan has had a relationship with Israel for some time, including the sale of Israeli military hardware and trade in Azerbaijani crude. That’s a far cry from having a nation of Persian empire descent and Muslim population consider a military alliance against another Muslim nation — especially the pre-eminent Muslim nation outside of Saudi Arabia, keeper of the holy sites.
The alliance makes sense for Israel, of course, and not just militarily. Their jets need to refuel in an attack on Iran, and there aren’t many options for them to do so. Refueling in Azerbaijan would solve that problem and make it much easier to add flexibility to fighter and bomber attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. However, that’s not the only advantage Israel would gain. They could point to the alliance with Azerbaijan as proof that their war on Iran isn’t a larger war on Islam, and it might give Saudi Arabia and other Arab states enough of a cover to stay out of the fight — although Egypt’s transformation into a Muslim Brotherhood state might mean a war for Israel’s western flank.
The US has probably played a role in putting these two nations together in a military alliance. That could be a big win if it stops Iran short of war. However, pushing Azerbaijan into war with Iran could inflame the entire Caucasus once again and end up destabilizing another key piece of Central Asia geography four years after the Russia-Georgia war. Pitting the Azerbaijanis against Iranians might prompt a popular Islamist uprising against the friendly autocracy in power now, and end up leaving us worse off than when we started. One assumes that Vladimir Putin would be prepared for that eventuality, but the Russians lost a lot of people in the Caucasus over the last twenty years, and they may not be especially anxious to light another match there.