Azerbaijan won’t allow Israel to use its bases for an airstrike on Iran, the country’s envoy to Pakistan said, rejecting reports that the Caspian country was aiding Israel in gearing up for military action.
In an interview published Tuesday with the Pakistani paper The News International, Dashgin Shikrov said Azerbaijan was doing its best to stay out of the conflict between Iran and the West, despite the country’s proximity to Iran and close ties with Israel.
“One should not think of it, since a large number of the Iranian population is Azeri and furthermore Azerbaijan has been following a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries,” Shikrov said. “Azerbaijan is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and nobody should have a doubt that it will permit its territory to be used for committing aggression against another member country of the organization.”
Shikrov added that Azerbaijan supports an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and would not take Israel’s side as long as a conflict remained with the Palestinians.
On Sunday, a Reuters report quoting unnamed officials said Israel and Azerbaijan were quietly looking at ways to use Azeri bases to facilitate an attack.
An Israeli strike on Iran faces the difficult challenge of overcoming long flight distances and refueling. Azerbaijan’s location on the Caspian Sea near Iran’s northern border makes it an ideal launching platform for airstrikes, refueling and missions to recover downed pilots.
A spokesman for Azeri president Ilham Aliyev told Reuters the country would not become involved in a conflict with Iran.
“No third country can use Azerbaijan to perpetrate an attack on Iran. All this talk is just speculation,” Reshad Karimov said.
Aliyev has in the past described Baku’s relationship with Jerusalem as like an iceberg, “nine tenths … below the surface,” according to leaked cables.
Azerbaijan-Iran relations suffered in the last several months as Baku accused Tehran of sending operatives to attack Israeli and Jewish sites in the country.
In April, top Azeri officials denied reports that bases near the Caspian would be loaned to Israel for a strike. Israeli officials blamed the White House for leaking the attack plans to warn Israel against taking unilateral action.