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FLASHBACK-BEWARE MULLAHS: ‘Azerbaijan allows Israel to use its air bases near Iran border’

Foreign Policy quotes U.S. diplomats as saying “We’re now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it” • A series of quiet political and military understandings have won Israel access to these air bases, senior U.S. sources explain.


Senior American diplomats and military intelligence officers have told Foreign Policy magazine that the United States now believes that Israel has been granted access to air bases in Azerbaijan, which shares a border with Iran. “The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior official told Foreign Policy in early February, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”

According to the Foreign Policy report, Israel’s embassy in Washington, the Israel Defense Forces and the Mossad spy agency were all contacted for comment but did not respond.

The Azeri Embassy in the U.S. also withheld a response, but a U.S. military intelligence officer has noted, according to Foreign Policy, that when posed with the question in the past, Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Safar Abiyev had not explicitly said his country would bar Israeli bombers from landing there after an attack on Iran. Nor did he rule out granting Israel permission to station search-and-rescue units in the country, according to the report.

Israel’s ties with Azerbaijan, a Muslim country that became independent with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, have grown as its once-strong strategic relationship with another Iranian neighbor, Turkey, has deteriorated. For Israeli intelligence, there is also a possible added benefit from Azerbaijan: its significant cross-border contacts and trade with Iran’s large ethnic Azeri community.

Speaking to Foreign Policy, one of the U.S. sources said, “We’re watching what Iran does closely. But we’re now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it.”

The Azeri military – based on a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2011 and brought forth by Foreign Policy – has four abandoned, Soviet-era airfields that could be made available to the Israelis, as well as four air bases for its own planes.

The U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials told Foreign Policy that Israel, through a series of quiet political and military understandings, has won access to these air bases. “I doubt that there’s actually anything in writing,” one senior retired American diplomat with rich experience in the region told Foreign Policy, “but I don’t think there’s any doubt — if Israeli jets want to land in Azerbaijan after an attack, they’d probably be allowed to do so. Israel is deeply embedded in Azerbaijan, and has been for the last two decades.”

In February 2012, Israeli defense officials confirmed the completion of a $1.6 billion deal to sell drones and anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, bringing sophisticated Israeli technology to Iran’s doorstep.

Israel Hayom reported at the time that it was not clear whether the arms deal with Azerbaijan was connected to any potential Israeli plans to strike Iran, but that Israeli defense officials spoke to Israel Hayom on condition of anonymity because they were not at liberty to discuss defense deals.

Danny Yatom, a former head of the Mossad, said the timing of the deal was likely coincidental. “Such a deal … takes a long period of time to become ripe,” he told The Associated Press.

He said Israel would continue to sell arms to its friends. “If it will help us in challenging Iran, it is for the better,” he said.

Former CENTCOM Commander


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