What is Happening in and around Iran?


What is Happening in and around Iran?

Iran between Israeli Strikes and Strains with Azerbaijan

January was marked by two shocking events in Iran: the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy and an attack on a facility belonging to the Iranian Ministry of Defense in Isfahan. Both of them provoked lots of attention not only in the country, but also in the whole region and beyond. Was this a coincidence or were these events related to each other? It’s not clear yet, but there are rumors suggesting Baku was involved in the attack on the Isfahan facility.

Text: Zhanna Vardanyan 

Attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran

On January 27th, an armed attack took place at the Embassy of Azerbaijan in the Islamic Republic of Iran. A man armed with a Kalashnikov rifle stormed into the embassy and started shooting at the employees of the embassy. The chief of the security office of the Embassy was reportedly killed while two other employees of the Embassy were injured.

The official statement by Tehran stated that the gunman had personal motives. Yasin Hosseinzadeh, the attacker, claimed that his wife had entered the Azerbaijani embassy in April 2022 and never returned, and that she was being held there against her will for nine months. He said he carried out the attack to restore his honor. "I did it for honor. If 100 people came out in front of me, I would shoot 100 of them," said Hosseinzadeh as quoted.

Baku, however, did not accept the official explanation. The Azerbaijani media immediately claimed the attack to be masterminded by Iran's special services, and the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry described it as a "treacherous attack." President Ilham Aliyev later called it a "terrorist act." Ultimately, Azerbaijan even disputed Iran's official version and demanded a “fair investigation” of the case.

In an effort to reduce tensions, the Iranian Foreign Minister and President held phone conversations with their Azerbaijani counterparts. Iran's Foreign Minister, Amir Abdollahian, expressed readiness to accept Azerbaijan's participation in the investigation. Despite Tehran's efforts, Azerbaijan made the situation worse by evacuating the staff of its embassy in Tehran two days after the attack. Azerbaijan also attempted to make statements against Iran on international forums, particularly in the Non-Aligned Movement. However, this was met with opposition not only from Iran, but also India and Syria.


Is the attack on the facility of Iran's Defense Ministry in Isfahan a coincidence?

On January 28th, an attack on the facility of the Defense Ministry was announced in the city of Isfahan, Iran. The Arab press began writing about attacks on various strategic objects in other cities in Iran, and published footage of fires, pointing to Israel as the attacker.

However, Iran officially confirmed only the attack on the facility in Isfahan and a fire at an engine oil factory near Tabriz, which was said to have been caused by a technical problem. Reports of attacks on other objects in other cities were denied. Later, Iran  officially blamed Israel for the attack on the facility in Isfahan.

The sequence of the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy and the strikes at the facility in Isfahan raised questions about Azerbaijan's involvement in the latter incident, especially since the Adviser to the Azerbaijani president, Hikmet Hajiyev, had a meeting with the Israeli ambassador shortly after the attack on the embassy.

Doubts arose around Azerbaijan due to its close partnership with Israel in the region and its past role as a platform for Israel against Iran. In particular, in 2014, Iran shot down an Israeli Hermes-450 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) near the Natanz nuclear facility. The Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Iran announced that the UAV was launched from Azerbaijan It is not to be excluded that Azerbaijan played a role in the Israeli last operation against Iran, particularly now when tensions between the two countries are high.At least the propaganda support was visible. As for Baku's role in the flight of UAVs, it should be noted that the attack was carried out by quadcopters, which means that it was most likely launched from inside Iran,  because the quadcopters do not have the power of flight to reach deep into Iran from another country. 


The current stage of Iran-Azerbaijan relations:

In the past two years, Iran-Azerbaijan relations have been unusually tense due to Iran's stance on the territorial integrity of Armenia and the “Zangezur corridor” issue following the Artsakh War. Baku accuses Iran of allying with Armenia and betraying Azerbaijan. According to Allahshukur Pashazade, the President of the Caucasus Muslim Department, Iran is a brother to Armenia, not Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan sees Iran as a rival, and is trying to weaken Iran's position in the region, so that it couldn't resist the opening of the “Zangezur corridor” or to force Tehran to change its position toward the corridor. Baku used the attack on the embassy to play the victim and gain international support against Iran. In turn, Iran sees Azerbaijan as a puppet in the hands of Israel and the West, trying to encircle and isolate Iran. 

It is worthy of attention that a few days after the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy, the heads of the Ministry of Defense and State Border Service of Azerbaijan held telephone conversations with the Ministry of Defense of Israel, discussing issues of border security. It is not clear what kind of border security they were referring to since the two countries do not share a common border. It is obvious that they were talking about the Iranian-Azerbaijani border, and it is important here to notice that Azerbaijan no longer conceals its cooperation with Israel against Iran.


What's the end result?

In fact, after the protests in the country subsided, Iran again became active on the foreign political scene. Amir Abdollahian, the Minister of Foreign Affairs made visits to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and some African and Latin American countries. The Syrian Minister of Defense and the Adviser to the Russian resident visited Iran. Abdollahian also plans to visit Russia in the near future. In January President Ebrahim Raisi twice had conversations with his Russian counterpart. 

This activity of Iran with the Syrian, Russian and Turkish parties is particularly important in the context of the Syria-Turkey conflict settlement process with the mediation of the Russian Federation. Iran was not present in this process, but thanks to active diplomacy both the Russian and Turkish sides announced that Iran would also participate in this process. Therefore, we can state that Tehran did not tolerate being left out of the process related to Syria, which is of strategic importance for the country.

We can expect the same in the case of the Caucasus. Iran has declared the “Zangezur Corridor” as a red line, therefore it will be difficult for Tehran to back down from that line. Of course, relations with Azerbaijan are also important for Iran, and Tehran will do everything to regulate them. Depending on the course of the development of events, it is not excluded that Tehran will agree to the application of the Syrian model in the Caucasus and come to terms with Russia and Turkey. 

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