Earlier today (1 October), Iran launched military exercises near its border with Azerbaijan. The exercises, which took place in northwest Iran, involved tanks, howitzers and helicopters firing at targets on the ground.
During an interview with Turkish news agency Anadolu on Monday (27 September), the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, expressed his surprise at the planned military exercises, stating that “Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It’s their sovereign right. But why now, and why on our border? Why weren't the drills held when the Armenians were in the Jabrayil, Fizuli and Zangilan regions? Why is this being done after we liberated these lands, after 30 years of occupation?”.
The relationship between Baku and Tehran has been under strain recently over the arrest of Iranian truck drivers. Azerbaijan recently started levying fees on drivers using the Goris-Kapan interstate road, which connects Armenia with Iran, but runs into Azerbaijani territory at certain points. On 15 September, Azerbaijani police arrested and detained two Iranian truck drivers, accusing them of illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border. While representatives from the countries have held meetings, the fate of the drivers remains unknown.
The war games are also seen as a direct response to the joint military exercises held by Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan – the self-proclaimed “three brothers” – as well as naval exercises conducted by Azerbaijan and Turkey in the Caspian Sea, which Iran has denounced as violating international law. However, the tension between Iran and Azerbaijan has also been exacerbated by Azerbaijan’s growing relations with Iran’s arch-rival, Israel. Iran has repeatedly expressed its concern at the growing military ties between the two nations. It was in this context that the Iranian foreign ministry yesterday (30 September) stated that the ongoing drills were “a question of sovereignty”, and, alluding to the presence of Israeli armed forces in Azerbaijan, that it would “not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime” near its borders.