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Tensions and troop movements on the Iranian-Azerbaijan border

by Germano Dottori

The Islamic Republic strengthens its northern front, dispatching a large number of military units to the border with Azerbaijan. An analysis by Germano Dottori.

Despite the lack of interest from the media and public opinion at large, events that could trigger a new crisis in a particularly strategic area, close to the Caspian Sea, are underway.

A few weeks ago, the Iranian Government dispatched a considerable number of units from both the Pasdaran and the Artesh, the regular army of Tehran, to the border with Azerbaijan. The movement of military convoys transporting troops to their destination was not hidden; instead, it was celebrated by Iranian propaganda with a series of very effective videos, produced with techniques which are very similar to those of major impact currently in use in the West.

As it could be seen, soldiers have tanks, artillery pieces, helicopters and drones. According to the Iranian authorities, this should be a temporary forces’ transfer, functional to a military exercise, which has been emblematically called "Conquerors of Khaybar", in memory of an oasis inhabited by Jews, which was conquered by the Prophet in 628.

The initiative taken by Tehran lends itself to several interpretations. For example, it could be seen as a form of pressure on Baku, so that the Azerbaijani government do not obstacle the communications between Iran and Armenia, alongside which the Islamic Republic sided during the recent conflict for the control of Nagorno-Karabakh. But if that was the purpose, the results have been rather disappointing so far, since Iranian truckers travelling to Yerevan have not been granted any facilities. On the contrary, they must pay a new transit fee and they are not allowed to use the Azerbaijani road network at night.

However, the reference to Khaybar and the repeated accusations, addressed to Baku authorities by those of Tehran, of hosting Israeli armed forces elements in at least four bases located in Azerbaijani territory suggest to assume that the Islamic Republic is trying to respond, as best as they can, to one of the clearest expressions of the so-called "Periphery doctrine" of Israel, which consists in establishing alliances with countries that are behind the backs of their enemies.

Indeed, not even by this standpoint it seems that the maneuvers are successful: according to the Saudi newspaper Elaph, which mentioned, in this regard, unspecified sources from Israeli security equipment, the Jewish State would have sent consistent reinforcements to Azerbaijan: in particular, a pair of F35-I Adir fighters, unmanned aircrafts, light weapons and probably ammunition, which would have been transported by air in the last few days.

Support also came from Turkey, with which the Azeris promoted, in turn, the development of their own military exercises, significantly entitled "Indestructible Brotherhood-2021". Even the Navy of Baku is now at sea.

In this way, the balance that the movement of Iranian troops towards the border had tilted in favour of Tehran has been somehow restored. Precisely for this reason, the outbreak of a conflict, that would inevitably have significant proportions considering the weight of the parties involved, is considered unlikely at this stage.

But it is necessary to underline how Iran has operated in this situation. With no perceived threats coming from the east, after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and being relatively safer even in the south, the Islamic Republic has strengthened its northern front. Tehran did so in order to have a stronger position at the negotiating table, if the nuclear dossier were again to be discussed, but perhaps also to protect itself more effectively in the event that diplomacy fails.

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