On Saturday, the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan asked Iran’s ambassador in Baku to appear before them following an incident where an Iranian fighter jet purportedly approached and then crossed the Azerbaijani border.

Azerbaijan’s foreign and defense ministries reported that from 09:44 to 10:26 local time Saturday, an Iranian aircraft flew along the boundary between Azerbaijan’s Zangilan and Bilasuvar districts.

The announcement confirmed that the plane was traveling a distance of three to five km (two to three miles) from the country’s border and, at times, flying across the international border.

The Republic of Azerbaijan called on Iran’s ambassador to the nation to register their complaint over the occurrence. Reports were shared by Iranian state media. However, Tehran has yet to issue a response.

Azerbaijan’s government released a statement denouncing the military aircraft that had flown for over thirty minutes in the recently reclaimed areas, calling it a “provocation and unfriendly behavior.”

The two nations, whose border is approximately 700 kilometers (430 miles) long, have a complicated relationship.

The Iranian government is cautious of Azerbaijan’s strong ties with Israel, an expansive arms dealer to Baku. Additionally, Tehran is concerned about nationalists in Azerbaijan and its close ally Turkey who appear to be encouraging separatist movements among the large Azeri population.

January saw a further deterioration in the relationship between the two countries with an armed attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran that resulted in a security official’s death and two more injured.

It was reported by Iranian officials that a local man had been apprehended in connection with the incident and that he had cited his own “personal and family difficulties” as the impetus for the attack.

The Azerbaijani foreign ministry’s spokesman asserted that the offensive was spurred by an anti-Azerbaijani campaign propagated in Iranian media, indicating that Iran was to blame for the attack.

During Monday’s press conference, Naser Kanani, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, proclaimed that their aircraft had not strayed into Azerbaijani airspace and called the summoning of their ambassador an ‘unfortunate choice.’

“We have relations with Azerbaijan in the field of defense, even the embassy is working actively, our military attache is working there,” Kanani said. “They could have applied to the Iranian embassy and our military attache over the issue. There would have been an exchange of ideas, and the misunderstanding could have been resolved.”

The incident occurred not long after Gila Gamliel, the Israeli Intelligence Minister, had a meeting with President Aliyev in Baku.

At the 10th Global Baku Forum, Gamliel declared that Iran is the primary source of turmoil in the region. She claimed that Iran was not only the foe of Israel but the entire globe, as reported by Voice of America.

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Azerbaijani Authorities Detain 32 Shia Figures Amid Strained Relations with Iran

The Government of Azerbaijan has taken into custody 32 Shia men as the relationship between that nation and Iran remains tense. This is not the first time that tension between the two countries has resulted in the detention of religious figures.

The men being held in custody had advocated for the alteration of the current constitutional setup of the Republic of Azerbaijan by violent means. This would essentially mean overthrowing the existing government. 

The prisoners had been employed by external intelligence agencies, perhaps with ties to Iran. The men being held are accused of trafficking in narcotics and using the resulting funds to advocate the overthrow of the government. 

Tensions Start to Rise

The tension between Azerbaijan and Iran has grown steadily over the past two years. This is due to a combination of factors, including Azerbaijan’s victory in the 2020 war with Armenia, Iranian troops briefly invading Azerbaijani territory, and an attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran. As a result, the situation has grown increasingly tense, with some analysts predicting it could lead to a full-scale war between the two countries.

Azerbaijan and Iran have strong ethnic and linguistic ties and centuries of history together. However, this ancient relationship has been considerably strained by recent events. In September 2020, large-scale clashes occurred on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia (outside Karabakh). This was followed by an attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran in February. 

The potential for a military conflict between Azerbaijan and Iran is a serious concern for both countries and neighboring nations. Both possess significant military capabilities which could be used to escalate any resulting conflict quickly. Additionally, there are concerns that other regional powers, such as Russia or Turkey, may become involved if tensions continue to rise.

Tweeting about the issue, an independent researcher in the South Caucasus, Shujaat Ahmadzada, opined that a full-blown war between the two was not probable, with more minor skirmishes being likely instead. 

He reported that a clash with Iran would be equivalent to a death sentence for Azerbaijan since “Iran has a clear military advantage.”

Ahmadzada noted that the dispute had considerable geopolitical ramifications, with Azerbaijan attempting to endear itself to countries in the West that are hostile to Iran.

In order to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out, both sides must take steps to de-escalate tensions and find diplomatic solutions to their differences. This could include increased dialogue between officials from both countries or international mediation efforts led by organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union.