Azeri fallout

Israeli analysts deride notion of a strike on Iran via Azerbaijan

‘Foreign Policy’ article, which prompted criticism of White House for leaking Israeli plans, rejected as ‘baseless’ and ‘impossible’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

An F-15 in its hangar in the Ovda air force base (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
An F-15 in its hangar in the Ovda air force base (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

Israeli military and intelligence analysts on Sunday categorically dismissed the notion that Israel is considering using airbases in Azerbaijan to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities.

A widely quoted article in Foreign Policy magazine making such claims caused a major stir in recent days, prompting a denial from Azerbaijan and leading one former senior US official to accuse the White House of leaking Israeli operational plans to the media in a bid to thwart an attack on Iran.

But Israeli analysts lined up Sunday to deride the idea as everything illogical, baseless, and impossible.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Ephraim Kam, the deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies and a former officer in the research division of the IDF’s Military Intelligence branch. “Azerbaijan has no interest in picking a fight with its neighbor Iran,” he added. “It’s a relatively new country and I don’t see how it could possibly be in their interest to grant any assistance to Israel in an attack on Iran.”

Kam added: “If the Azeri were really to help Israel carry out attack on Iran, they would pick a huge fight with Iran, and if Iran decided to strike Azerbaijan, nobody would come to their help. In my eyes this scenario seems absolutely impossible.

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Last Wednesday, Mark Perry wrote in the widely respected Foreign Policy magazine that “several high-level sources” in the American government believe that the good security cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan increased the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran. “In particular,” Perry writes, “four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear.”

Perry then goes on to quote US officials who worried about Israeli jets planning to take advantage of the suspected airfield, either on the way to or on the way back from a strike on Iran.

The article, entitled “Israel’s Secret Staging Ground,” was quoted in virtually all Israeli and dozens of international newspapers, and led some commentators to accuse the US administration of trying to foil an Israeli attack on Iran by divulging Jerusalem’s plans and thus making them unusable.

“I think this leak today is part of the administration’s campaign against an Israeli attack,” John Bolton, a former American ambassador to the United Nations and right-wing pundit, told Fox News on Thursday.

“The US administration,” Ron Ben-Yishai wrote on Ynet, “recently shifted into high gear in its efforts to avert an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the end of the year. The flood of reports in the American media in recent weeks attests not only to the genuine US fear that Israel intends to realize its threats;XF it indicates that the Obama Administration has decided to take its gloves off.”

On Saturday, Ynet reported that a top White House official denied that the US administration was responsible for the leak.

Unfortunately, lamented Ehud Yaari, Channel 2’s chief political analyst and Times of Israel columnist, nobody made the effort to check whether the theories put forward by Perry’s article held water.

“No one seems to have raised the real questions before rushing to publish or quote the Perry-tale,” Yaari wrote on Sunday in The Times of Israel. “Elementary, Mr. Perry: How would the Israeli Air Force reach those airbases in Azerbaijan? Are the Israelis going to get a permit from Mr. Erdogan to fly over Turkey on their way to hit Iran? Does it make any sense? Or, alternatively, does Perry want us to believe that the Israelis will choose to bypass Turkey on their secret mission via the longer route over Greece and Bulgaria, thus becoming fully exposed to Russian radar in the Black Sea? Take a look at the map, Mr. Perry — there is no other way for the Israelis to get to Azerbaijan!”

Yaari also dismissed the idea that Israeli jets could use Azeri airfields on their way back to Israel after a strike. “How can Azerbaijan possibly afford to cooperate in an attack on Iran when it depends on Iran entirely for maintaining control over that significant part of this country, the Nakhichevan region, an exclave and autonomous republic of Azerbaijan that is totally separated from the main Azeri territory by its archenemy, Armenia?”

Iranian missiles could easily destroy the Azeri airbases Israel purportedly plans to use, as well as the large oil terminal near the capital Baku, which would devastate the country’s economy, Yaari added.

Shlomo Brom, a former chief of the IDF’s strategic planning division, agrees that the theory put forward by Perry’s article doesn’t seem logical.

“This is utterly baseless. Azerbaijan is a small country that borders on Iran. It just doesn’t make sense they would help Israel attack them. It would be suicidal,” Brom told The Times of Israel.

Brom added: “It is known that Mark Perry is not a huge fan of Israel. What probably happened is that he took a kernel of truth — that Israel and Azerbaijan have good bilateral cooperation, just like Israel has many other strategic alliances in the world, for example with India — and turned it into something that is it not, which is military cooperation on a strike on Iran.”

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