Iran to Begin Military Exercises Linked to Rivalry With Israel
(Bloomberg) -- Iran said it will start military exercises in its northwest on Friday after moving forces near to the border with Azerbaijan, a deployment that angered the Azeri president and thrust Tehran’s rivalry with Israel to the fore.
The drills will involve armored units, drones and attack helicopters, and test electronic radar systems, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, citing a statement by Army Brigadier General Kioumars Heydari.
Heydari didn’t specify where in Iran’s northwestern region -- which borders Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and Iraq -- the maneuvers will be held. But Azerbaijan’s leader Ilham Aliyev has expressed concern over Tehran massing military assets near his country’s frontier for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday defended the moves, linking them to “the presence of Israel” in Azerbaijan.
“It’s clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime near its borders and in this respect it will implement any action it deems necessary for its national security,” ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
Iran is wary of Israel’s links to Azerbaijan, which is a major exporter of oil to the Jewish state. Israel, for its part, supplies Azerbaijan with drones and other high-tech weapons that helped Baku tip the military balance in its favor in last year’s war with Armenia.
The exercises have been named “Conquerors of Kheybar,” according to Heydari, which may be a reference to a seventh-century battle in present-day Medina, Saudi Arabia, between Muslims and the area’s Jewish community.
They will feed into an increasingly fraught region where Iran is locked in a standoff with the U.S. over the ailing 2015 nuclear deal that Washington abandoned three years ago before reimposing tough sanctions on Tehran. Talks to revive it have languished for months and Israel is a vocal opponent of the agreement.
Iran has accused its long-time foe of being behind several attacks on its nuclear facilities including the assassination of a top scientist last year. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its role in any of the incidents. The two countries have also traded claims of strikes on each other’s shipping.
Azerbaijani police and customs officials weeks ago began imposing a “road tax” on Iranian trucks shipping fuel and other goods to neighboring Armenia. A section of the main route to Armenia passes through Azerbaijan on land Armenian forces occupied for decades until last year’s 44-day war between them over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Iran’s own sizeable population of ethnic Azeris, who are concentrated in the northwest and constitute about a third of the population, staged protests in several cities last year in support of Azerbaijan during the conflict.
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