Iran and Azerbaijan have been involved in a series of political and security face-offs through the past weeks. The two nations have a history of political and ideological rifts.
The political friction between Tehran and Baku have intensified in recent months. The ties between the two neighboring Muslim nations, nevertheless, were already strained. Karabakh conflict last year marked a shift in the relationship between Iran and Azerbaijan.
The recitation of a controversial verse by Turkish President in Baku late last year received angry response from Tehran. Erdogan has been charged with inciting separatist and racial divisions in Iran. Iran hosts tens of millions of Azeri as Iranian nationals in Iran-Azerbaijan border.
Armenia took control over Karabakh for over three decades. With friendly ties between Tehran and Yerevan, a large section of the borderline was open to Iran to establish commerce corridor.
Azerbaijan’s takeover of the land following the 44-day conflict shifted the geopolitical condition of the region. Baku reclaimed entire authority of the border with Iran, including key links that allowed transportation through Karabakh.
Despite difference in ideological issues, Iran and Azerbaijan used to resolve the bilateral issues through talks. As such, the two nation have been involved in no direct tensions through the past decades since the formation of Azerbaijan.
Iranian vehicles, thus, have kept on transporting supplies to areas of Karabakh through the capital. Baku’s initiative to put customs duties on vehicles travelling over the Gorus-Gafan highway was welcomed by Iran.
The tension started when Azerbaijan, under the influence of unknown foreign parties, detained several vehicles drivers for unlawfully seeking entry to the country through Yerevan.
Officials in Iran quickly reacted to the situation, calling for the immediate release of the drivers. Iranian ambassador in Baku also actively intervened to lead the new challenge into a resolution.
Iran and Azerbaijan; Third Players
Iranian first official response to the recent tensions held undertone of regret and warning. Iran believes that there are third parties intervening in the bilateral affairs of the two nations.
Iranian foreign minister directly clarified Iran’s position saying there are “third parties” affecting the relations. Amir-Abdollahian‘s reference was certainly to Israel, a long-time partner of Baku.
One of the sources of concern arose after Tehran launched military drills in its northeastern regions. Azerbaijani president expressed astonishment at the move, asking no such drill were observed during the Armenia rule over Karabakh. Aliyev, nevertheless, missed to refer to Iran’s incessant attempts to ease the tension during the Azerbaijan-Armenia war last year.
Iranian foreign ministry officials clarified that the Israeli presence near its borders is not to be tolerated. Calling it an issue of sovereignty, Saeed Khatibzadeh said “Iran will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime near our borders.”
Azerbaijan is also in a critical condition considering the geopolitical position and its importance for the European countries. On the other hand, Russia, an Iranian partner in the region, will hinder aggressive or threatening moves by Baku.
A meeting between Ambassadors of Azerbaijan and UK to Iran further demonstrates that Baku treads apprehensively in the global structure of partnerships. For Britain and some other European countries like France, who’ve been long seeking the revival of JCPOA, preventing any escalation of tensions is of great importance.
Israel, as the main third player in the ties between Iran and Azerbaijan, has an important role in future development. The presence of Israeli troops in Iranian vicinity may lead to further tensions and potential aggression. Baku knows that and the recent movements shows it’s under Tel Aviv’s influence to some extent. To secure the long-term interests, Baku should adopt more reasonable strategies.