Tehran, Iran – Iran’s military has launched a large military drill near the country’s border with Azerbaijan, in a show of force amid tensions with its neighbouring country partly linked to the latter’s close ties with Israel.
State television on Friday showed footage of tanks, helicopters, artillery and soldiers being deployed in an unspecified area in northwestern Iran.
The army also said it was testing a locally manufactured long-range drone and other “achievements” for the first time.
It came after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps deployed equipment and troops near the border area last month, shortly after Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan conducted a military drill in Baku.
Iran has openly said it is concerned about Azerbaijan’s close military ties with its arch-foe Israel, whose provision of high-tech assault drones and other equipment to the Azeri army is thought to have helped tip the balance in its favour during its 44-day war with Armenian forces last year.
Welcoming Azerbaijan’s new envoy to Tehran on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned that Iran “does not tolerate the presence and activities of the Zionist regime against its national security and will do whatever necessary in this regard”.
During the military drill on Friday, Kioumars Heydari, the commander of the Iranian army’s ground forces, told state TV that Iran is also concerned about the presence of fighters that Azerbaijan brought in during last year’s fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has never started any invasion. But when there was war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a considerable number of ISIS terrorists were called to the area,” he said, referring to the armed group also known as ISIL.
“We’re really not sure they’ve left the area. But they must leave the area.”
Earlier this week, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said during an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency that he was surprised by the planned military exercise.
“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, pointing out that this would be the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that Iran is making such a show of force so close to the border.
Tensions between the two neighbours also rose after Azerbaijan imposed a “road tax” on Iranian trucks moving through the Karabakh region, and detained two Iranian lorry drivers last month.
Aliyev said in his interview the new duties gradually brought the number of Iranian trucks moving cargo to Armenia down to zero.