The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Azerbaijan To Aid Israel in Attack on Iran?

Could Azerbaijan be the key to Israel’s strategy for successfully attacking Iran’s nuclear program? A report from Reuters suggests that talks are afoot between the two unlikely allies:

[Azerbaijan's support] is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan—notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews—such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.

It could also have violent side-effects more widely and many doubt Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would risk harming the energy industry on which his wealth depends, or provoking Islamists who dream of toppling his dynasty, in pursuit of favor from Israel.

Yet despite official denials by Azerbaijan and Israel, two Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.

We analyzed the strange clandestine friendship between the two countries developing earlier this year, and noted that it was already provoking unease in Iran, not least because of Iran’s sizable Azeri minority living in the north. Though Iran has publicly stated that it will retaliate against any country helping Israel, it’s not clear whether a potentially restive Azeri minority would stay its hand.

Perhaps needless to say, this is the Caucasus where things are rarely simple and obvious. As the Reuters piece points out, from vulnerable pipelines to frozen ethnic conflicts to Great Powers jostling for influence, Azerbaijan has it all. A smart leader in such a position is best advised to carefully balance competing and cross-cutting interests and demands, rather than ostentatiously stir the pot. So one thing’s for certain: if Israel decides to strike Iran singlehandedly, and if Azerbaijan somehow ends up helping Israel with logistics, refueling, intelligence, or search-and-rescue, it’s likely to be as low profile as humanly possible.

Published on September 30, 2012 3:00 pm