Iran accuses Azerbaijan-ally Israel of having a part in the escalation, saying it will not tolerate any ‘Zionist initiative on border reshuffling in the region’
Azerbaijan’s anti-terror operation launched on Tuesday in its Nagorno-Karabakh conclave – a response to a series of terror attacks on civilian and police vehicles – was aimed at separatist militia in the territory, populated by Armenians who live under the control of a Russian peacekeeping force.
The escalation plays into the hands of two major players in the region – Iran and Russia.
As official Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) sources report, as of Tuesday, after explosions in the Hojavend district killed six Azerbaijanis, Iranian forces stationed in Eastern Azerbaijan were prompted to be on high alert.
Simultaneously, reconnaissance drones operated by the IRGC took to the skies, initiating the collection of vital information regarding the events unfolding in Karabakh. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that all of Iran’s ground forces along the border with Azerbaijan stood ready to engage in combat operations.
Numerous Iranian media outlets started to disseminate information regarding Israel and Turkey’s alleged involvement through support for Azerbaijani military actions, emphasizing that Iran will not tolerate any “Zionist initiative on border reshuffling in the region,” even though Azerbaijan’s military operations are confined to their own territory.
Strikes were being carried out against separatist units known as the Defense Army of Artsakh – an entity unrecognized even by Armenia. These units, in accordance with agreements following the 2020 war, were not supposed to exist at all. Nevertheless, they were formed despite the presence of Russian “peacekeepers” tasked with ensuring the absence of any other armed forces on the ground.
The armed forces of Azerbaijan, employing Israeli technology, have released videos showcasing the destruction of military installations using drones, including highly expensive systems like the SA-15 Gauntlet. It remains unknown from whom the separatists acquired such expensive military technology, but it is likely they got it from Armenia’s armed forces, which, it is worth recalling, do not recognize the independence of the separatist republic.
The second beneficiary of this escalation is Russia. Against the backdrop of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s demonstration of his desire to reorient the country towards the West and his refusal to recognize the separatist enclave as part of Armenia, the escalation triggered by terrorism plays into Moscow’s hands.
“In Armenia, they do indeed believe that Russia has abandoned them, but at the same time, somewhat oddly, they claim that the West won’t help them,” noted Joseph Epstein, an expert on Iran and the former Soviet Union.
“Right now, there’s a protest taking place in front of the Russian embassy in Yerevan. Demonstrators are demanding assistance, particularly through the CSTO, from which Pashinyan threatens to withdraw Armenia. The Russian Foreign Ministry acknowledges that they can’t do anything. Pashinyan has ‘tied’ their hands by not recognizing the enclave as part of Armenia. So according to his own declaration, there’s no aggression – Azerbaijan is within its rights.”
For the vast majority of Armenians, the enclave is seen as a part of “Greater Armenia,” and Pashinyan’s inability to provide assistance – his direct refusal to send troops there – is sure to result in his removal, effectively ending his pro-Western policies. Surprisingly, this outcome is not beneficial to Azerbaijan.
Moscow has a vested interest in the instability and the continued existence of the enclave, which ultimately serves as a “switch” against Baku, their competitor in the energy resources supplied to the European Union.
Azerbaijan, for various objective reasons – including its alignment with the West – has no plans for mass expulsion of enclave residents to Armenia. Furthermore, Russia simply won’t allow it to happen, as it wants to prolong its peacekeepers staying in the area even after the end of the mandate in 2025.
“There are numerous possibilities, including even the issuance of Russian passports to enclave residents,” suggested Epstein, who does not rule out the possibility that the terror acts against Azerbaijani citizens were carried out with the coordination of “peacekeepers.”
It should be noted that the timing of the bombings was very deliberate: a day after the opening of two humanitarian supply roads leading to the enclave from both Armenia and Azerbaijan. As its pro-Russian leaders claimed, the population of the enclave was “dying from hunger like Jews in the ghettos,” – a comparison that caused outrage among EU rabbis and created a lot of public relations problems for Baku.
The open roads – one of which was blocked by the Armenians – solved this problem. So, stemming from that there was a need to create another issue.
It was obvious to the perpetrators that Azerbaijan had to react to the murder of its citizens. And did it in a somewhat Israeli manner – the enclave population received SMS warnings before the upcoming attacks to leave the areas where separatist units were stationed.