Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Will Israel use Air Fields in Azerbaijan if Israel Attacks Iran?

Map of Azerbaijan and Iran

There was a fascinating article in Foreign Policy magazine a few days ago outlining how Azerbaijan had secretly given Israel access to airfields in the country.  Azerbaijan is a secular Muslim north of Iran, and Israelis clearly look at these bases (if the article is true) as a key component in any plan to launch a strike on Iran's nuclear program.  The issue for Israel is that it is 2,200 miles round trip from IAF's airfields to Iran's nuclear sites.  Israel does not possess substantial air-to-air refueling capabilities, and hence might not be able to carry as many bombs as they would like in order to save fuel.

There have been long close ties between the Azeris and the Israelis, and not withstanding Azerbaijan's frequent expressions of friendship for Iran, the Azeris clearly look at the Islamic Republic as a threat.  Azerbaijan's security services recently broke up an Iranian spy ring of 22 people in Baku, and Iran supports Imams who espouse its' extreme version of Islam in Azerbaijan's mosques.  As the article notes, Israel has had deepening economic ties with Azerbaijan for nearly 20 years, and recently sold the Azeris US$1.6 billion of advanced drones and other Israeli weaponry.

It seems quite likely that the US is worried that if Israel has access to Azerbi air fields, it will make it more confident of attacking Iran.  From the Obama Administration's perspective, they believe that sanctions against Iran - which are increasingly biting into the health of its economy - should be given more time to work.  The article hypothesizes - and I would definitely agree - that US intelligence sources leaked this story as a way to warn Israel off of doing anything rash:
"We're watching what Iran does closely," one of the U.S. sources, an intelligence officer engaged in assessing the ramifications of a prospective Israeli attack confirmed. "But we're now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we're not happy about it."
Not surprisingly, there have been vociferous denials from the Azeris that they have granted Israel access to its air bases, but in my opinion this is a clear case of "where there's smoke there's fire".  Here is the link for the full article from Foreign Policy.

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