An Iranian diplomat criticized Azerbaijan on Friday after the Eurasian country inaugurated its embassy in Israel. Iran’s relations with neighboring Azerbaijan have been tense for some time, in part due to Azerbaijan’s ties to Israel.
What happened: On Wednesday, Azerbaijan inaugurated its first-ever embassy in Tel Aviv.
During the inauguration ceremony, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen discussed the “threat” from Iran. “Israel and Azerbaijan share the same perception of the Iranian threats. Iranian ayatollah regime threatens both our regions, finances terrorism and destabilizes the entire Middle East,” said Cohen, the Times of Israel reported.
For his part, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov thanked Israel for its “support for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty” in its territorial conflict with Armenia, according to the outlet.
Today, together with my colleague Foreign Minister @elicoh1 we held an opening ceremony of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in #Israel. It was great pleasure to see so many friends of Azerbaijan and Israel at the event. pic.twitter.com/7dNNKkIkHz— Jeyhun Bayramov (@Bayramov_Jeyhun) March 29, 2023
On Friday, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the display of friendship between the two countries. The ministry referred to an “implicit approval of the anti-Iranian orientation of their cooperation, demanding an explanation from the Azeri authorities in this regard,” according to a statement.
Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a statement later on Friday in response, saying Jeyhun "has not displayed any standpoint against Iran."
"In this regard, we consider this statement made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran as another anti-Azerbaijani step," said the ministry.
Relatedly, on Thursday, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry condemned remarks allegedly made by Iranian Army commander Kiumars Heydari asserting that Islamic State fighters had fought alongside Azerbaijan in the 2020 war with Armenia. The ministry called the remarks "groundless and totally unacceptable," Reuters reported.
The claim may have been in reference to Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces who fought for Azerbaijan in the war.
Why it matters: Israel and Azerbaijan have close relations. Israel buys oil from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan buys Israeli weapons, notably in 2020 during Azerbaijan’s territorial war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The conflict ended in a victory for Azerbaijan.
Israeli is widely rumored to have a security presence in Azerbaijan, though it is not confirmed. Azerbaijan's statement on Friday notably read, "Azerbaijan has never allowed the use of its territory against third countries."
Former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Azerbaijan last October.
Israel-Azerbaijan cooperation is a matter of concern for Iran. In 2021, Iran held military exercises on its border with Azerbaijan. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned the Azerbaijani ambassador in Tehran that Iran “will not tolerate the Zionist regime’s presence along its borders and will take necessary measures against the regime’s activities.”
Iran is also concerned about Azerbaijan’s close relations with Turkey. Iran is relatively friendly with Armenia.
Tensions between the two countries especially escalated in January when a man attacked the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran with a gun, killing the embassy's security head. Iranian authorities described the incident as a family dispute, but Azerbaijan called it a terrorist attack.
Know more: Suspected Israeli missile strikes in Syria led to the death of an Iranian military commander early Friday morning. Iran said Israel will “receive a response” for the attack.