Israel might resort to Azerbaijan’s strategic geographic position to strike Iran’s atomic sites, Reuters has reported, reviving rumours officially denied by both Israel and Azerbaijan.
Leaked intelligence from two former Azeri military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Baku and Tel Aviv are considering the Azeri bases for military use against Tehran.
If Tel Aviv is to act without Washington’s support, the Israeli war plan would need to compensate for the handicap of acting alone – notably carrying out long-range reconnaissance, bombardment and rescue missions.
Such a possibility could potentially be drawing near as last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the UN’s General Assembly that Tehran is only a year away from the "red line" for atomic capacity.
Washington has on numerous occasions stressed that the time for diplomacy and sanctions to deal with Iran has not run out. Israel continues to lobby for a potential military solution to concerns over Iran’s atomic facilities; something that many analysts believe will have dire consequences for the region.
Nevertheless, a member of the Azeri parliament's foreign affairs committee admitted to Reuters that Israel would need Baku’s support if it were to attack Iran as it would face a “refuelling” problem if it goes so far as taking the military option.
“I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access,” Rasim Musabayov added. “We have (bases) fully equipped with modern navigation, anti-aircraft defenses and personnel trained by Americans and if necessary they can be used without any preparations.”
But officials in Azerbaijan’s president office have denied the speculation.
"No third country can use Azerbaijan to perpetrate an attack on Iran,” said Reshad Karimov from President Aliyev's staff.
Yet, in February Israeli defense officials confirmed a 2011 deal to sell to Azerbaijan 60 drones as well as antiaircraft and missile defense systems for some $1.6 billion.
"With these drones, (Israel) can indirectly watch what's happening in Iran, while we protect our borders," Musabayov says.
One of the sources linked to the Azeri military reportedly said: “There is not a single official base of the United States and even less so of Israel on the territory of Azerbaijan. But that is 'officially'. Unofficially they exist, and they may be used.”
The Reuters’ source also claimed that Iran was the main topic of discussion during Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s visit in April.
But this spring, Baku firmly denied reports that an agreement has been reached between Azerbaijan and Israel, granting the latter air base access for potential strikes on Iran. A spokesman from the Azeri defense ministry earlier refuted these claims as “absurd and groundless.” Those statements came on the back of a Foreign Policy report that claimed cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel was "heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran".
Azeri- Iran relation have seen better days. An Azeri-language television channel which is streamed by Tehran portrays president Aliyev as a puppet of Israel and the West. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan sees Iranian hands behind its Islamist opposition and both countries have arrested alleged spies.
“We live in a dangerous neighbourhood,” one presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. “That’s the most powerful driving force behind our relationship with Israel.”