Amid tensions with its neighboring country partly linked to Baku’s close ties with Israel, Iran’s military has launched a large military drill near the country’s border with Azerbaijan.
On Friday, Iranian state television showed footage of tanks, helicopters, artillery and soldiers being deployed in an unspecified area in northwestern Iran, where the army also said it was testing a locally manufactured long-range drone and other “achievements” for the first time.
The military drill comes as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps deployed equipment and troops near the border area last month, which was a move highly disputed on the Azerbaijani side.
Iran has illustrated that it is concerned about Azerbaijan’s close ties with its arch-rival Israel through statements made by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, whose provision of high-tech assault drones and other equipment to the Azerbaijani army is thought to have helped in its liberation of the region from Armenian occupation during the 44-day conflict last year.
Tensions between the two neighbors also rose after Azerbaijan imposed a “road tax” on Iranian trucks moving through the Karabakh region, and detained two Iranian lorry drivers last month.
In this regard, Baku has underlined that its policy is quite normal because Karabakh is part of Azerbaijani sovereignty and any transportation related to trade activities across that region should be subject to customs. Also, Azerbaijani authorities have been concerned that Iranian trucks might also carry military equipment, which could end up at the hands of Armenian forces, who were occupying the Karabakh region since 1994, resulting in the internal displacement of more than 700,000 people.
In an interview, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressed his surprise towards the Iranian military drills. President Aliyev also announced that this was not the first time that Iranian trucks illegally traveled to the Karabakh region, as the illegal crossings were conducted repeatedly during the occupation period and following the conflict, despite official calls on Iran to put an end to the practice.