The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has threatened Azerbaijan, one of the crucial suppliers of energy resources to Europe and Israel, with attack and annexation of its territory, as well as threatening the Azerbaijani President, calling him a “Zionist puppet”. Meanwhile, Iran has put its airbase in Tabriz in full operational readiness. The Iranian air force has been put on combat readiness for patrolling the skies above the border of Iran and Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the Iranian army was given the order to prepare its anti-air systems.
A massive anti-Azerbaijani (and anti-Israeli) propaganda campaign aimed at escalating the situation began on March 21st with publications on the official IRGC Telegram channel and the separate Telegram channel “Niru-ye Qods” of the Qods force special unit, created by Qasem Soleimani.
According to them, the “Zionist regime” pressed Azerbaijan “for a hostile action against Armenia”. “The message of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Baku and its supporters is clear: Mr. Aliyev, it will cost you a lot”, said one of the publications. IRGC also claims that “by attacking the border areas of Iran and Armenia, Azerbaijan can close the communication route between Iran, Russia and Europe… Moreover, the role of Baku in the assassinations and acts of vandalism committed by Israel against Iran is obvious”, the publication emphasizes. “In recent years, Baku has become the main Asian ally of Israel, which actually uses Baku’s infrastructure against the Iranian people…”.
The IRGC statement ends with literal threats aimed at the whole of Azerbaijan, stating that the IRGC will personally be overseeing the annexation of Azerbaijani territory in case of a war and “no nuclear powers” would be able to stop it. “Niru-ye Qods” also specifies that Israel, who is allegedly pressuring Azerbaijan to fight, will not be able to save “its minor adopted son”.
The claims about the Azerbaijani-Israeli upcoming alleged attack on Armenia are false, as even the Armenian Defense Minister Papikyan denied last week the news spread by the Armenian media about the alleged accumulation of the Azerbaijani forces along the border.
There are several real tactical and strategic reasons for Iranian incitement and military build-up.
First of the tactical ones is an attempt to suppress the ongoing protests in the country. Another one – the need to shake up IRGC.
During the mass uprising in Iran in autumn 2022, a group of IRGC officers rebelled: they planned to launch an artillery shelling of government facilities in Tehran. The residence of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was identified as one of the targets. The plot was uncovered, its participants were detained. The interrogation showed that the protests had a negative impact on the morale of the IRGC units; many of them sympathized with opponents of the regime. This was also facilitated by low wages. During the protests, there were also cases of desertion and group refusals to use violence against protesters; in some cases, military personnel helped them. Many family members of the IRGC personnel, including high-ranking officers, took an active part in the protests and were arrested.
Waging war is a perfect tool to “clean up” the ranks of the Guards, who are considered the main pillar of the regime.
The first strategic reason is to show Baku that Tehran will not let it build the Zangezur Corridor leading from the East to Europe bypassing Iran and Russia. After the war of 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a tripartite ceasefire agreement, shepherded by Russia, which provided for establishing the Zanzegur Corridor. The Corridor is a proposed transport route that would link the Nakhchivan Autonomous Region, a western exclave of Azerbaijan, separated from the mainland by Armenian territory, to the rest of the country.
Iran considers this project a “conspiracy to create NATO’s Turan Corridor”, which will cut it off from Armenia—the country Tehran considers its most important regional ally. And these feelings are mutual. Despite the impression of Prime Minister Pashinyan’s refocusing on the West, a number of easily verifiable facts unambiguously testify that Armenia not only serves as a major hub for supplies to Russia of sanctioned goods and a military and technical supply base for the aggression against Ukraine, but also serves as a military and logistical backbone of the Russian-Iranian alliance.
During the last year Iranian President Raisi made eight statements about the importance of relations with Armenia and advocated its intensification. “Iran considers Armenia a close and friendly country,” he said on June 2nd. “Armenia intends to develop relations with Iran as much as possible and in all areas,” Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan echoed him on October 1st. “Armenia’s security is Iran’s security,” Iran’s Foreign Affairs minister declared on October 20th. The next day, his Armenian counterpart emphasized that relations between the two countries were based on “a profound understanding of the common natural interests of the states.” On February 11th this year, President Khachatryan reiterated, “The Republic of Armenia seeks to expand and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with Iran.”
On October 30th, the Armenian Defense Ministry acknowledged that Iran had supplied Iran with attack drones, and in the same month the Iranians donated 600 missiles. And on November 1st Pashinyan was welcomed in Tehran: a memorandum of understanding and cooperation in the energy sphere was signed.
It is symbolic that the trade turnover between the two countries increased sharply against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine: in 2022 Armenia’s exports to Iran totaled $111.2 million, a 70% increase over the previous year; Iranian imports to Armenia totaled $599.7 million, an increase of 37%.
Official Yerevan’s support for the theocratic regime is pretty obvious: soon after the brutal suppression of protests in Iran, one of the main reasons for which was severe discrimination against women, the wife of Armenian Prime Minister Hakobyan visited Tehran. There, on January 18th, she took part in the “First International Congress of Powerful Women” organized by the authorities. On February 27th, Iran’s foreign minister acknowledged her participation in this important event for the regime.
It is equally telling that a month and a half earlier, on November 24, Armenia had spoken out against a resolution of a special session of the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Council, entitled “The deteriorating human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
Also, Iran’s support for the Russian war against Ukraine is being undertaken with the help of Armenia, which is allowing Moscow to evade sanctions through the supply of Iranian drones and missiles via Armenian air space and airports. Iran Air Cargo, a subsidiary of Iran Air, used Yerevan’s Zvartnots International, a civilian airport, for that purpose.
The second strategic reason of current Iranian propagandistic and military escalation is that Azerbaijan is growing close to Israel and the West. Baku supplies Jerusalem with 40% of its energy resources. The escalation and a possible conflict also plays into Russia’s hands, as Azerbaijan turned to be one of the major alternative sources of energy resources for the EU.