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Iran holds military drill near Azerbaijan border due to ‘Zionist presence’ there

Tehran dismisses Azerbaijan’s concerns and protests over surprise military maneuvers close to frontier, says it is a ‘question of sovereignty’

Illustrative: This photo released January 19, 2021, by the Iranian Army, shows tanks moving during a military drill. (Iranian Army via AP)
Illustrative: This photo released January 19, 2021, by the Iranian Army, shows tanks moving during a military drill. (Iranian Army via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Tehran on Tuesday invoked its “sovereignty” to dismiss Azerbaijan’s concerns over Iranian military exercises near their shared border.

“The drills carried out by our country in the northwest border areas… are a question of sovereignty,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement on the ministry website.

Tehran “will take all measures it judges necessary for its national security”, he said, adding, “Iran will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime near our borders” — an allusion to Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had criticized Tehran over the drills, calling them “a very surprising event.”

“Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It’s their sovereign right. But why now, and why on our border?” he said in an interview with Turkish news agency Anadolu published on Monday.

No further details were available on the military exercises.

Fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September last year over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, claiming some 6,000 lives over six weeks.

A secular, Muslim-majority state, Azerbaijan has long had warm relations with Jerusalem. Baku has bought billions of dollars of weapons from Israel and provided the Jewish state with oil.

The arms deals have sparked controversy and diplomatic flareups between Israel and Armenia, Azerbaijan’s neighbor and rival.

Armenia has since 2016 accused Azerbaijan of deploying Israeli-made kamikaze drones against Armenian forces. An Azerbaijani official acknowledged using Israeli-made attack drones, including loitering munitions during fighting last year.

Iran and Azerbaijan share a border of around 700 kilometers (430 miles) and enjoy good relations.

According to some estimates, there are around 10 million members of Iran’s Azeri-speaking community.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report

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