U.S. Report Shifts Israel-Iran Battle Lines


Published: April 3, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Reports that Israel has access to airbases in Azerbaijan could point
to a strategic shift in the battle lines between the Jewish state
and Iran.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, April 3 (UPI) — Reports that Israel has access
to airbases in Azerbaijan, Iran’s uneasy northern neighbor, could
point to a strategic shift in the battle lines between the Jewish
state and the Islamic Republic — and could affect the smoldering
U.S.-Iranian standoff.

Having the use of air bases right on Iran’s doorstep would completely
change the military situation for Israel by eliminating one of its
major headaches: the distance its strike jets would have to fly to
reach their targets in Iran and return to their bases.

The round trip total in excess of 2,200 miles and would necessitate
one — possibly two — in-flight refueling, during which the strike
aircraft as well as their aerial tankers would be highly vulnerable.

Israel only has a handful of aerial tankers, limiting the size of
the strike force.

Having bases in Azerbaijan, a Soviet republic until 1991, would mean
the attacking F-16I and F-15I jets could reach their targets without
in-flight refueling because, if the reports attributed to U.S.

officials are correct, the planes could land in Azerbaijan to fill
their fuel tanks and head home.

The Azeri government in Baku has denied it has made any deal with
Israel and Israel has refused to validate the reports.

But in recent years, Muslim, pro-Western Azerbaijan has established
strong military and intelligence links with Israel while Baku’s
relations with Iran have steadily deteriorated.

The U.S. magazine Foreign Report, in its March 28 edition, quoted
four senior U.S. diplomats and military intelligence officers as
saying Israel has been granted access to airbases in Azerbaijan.

However, they said they didn’t know whether that meant Israeli combat
aircraft could use them in any assault on Iran, either before or
after attacking targets there.

But even if it’s only to allow Israeli jets to land there after a
strike, or to base Israeli search-and-rescue units there to pick up
downed pilots, these officials said Israeli access to Azeri bases
immensely complicates U.S. efforts to persuade the Israelis not to
mount an offensive operation Washington fears will trigger a regional
war that would drag in a reluctant America.

Now the whole issue gets rather murky.

There are growing suspicions that the report, true or otherwise, was
deliberately leaked by the administration of U.S. President Barack
Obama as a signal to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the
leading proponent of attacking Iran, to back off unilateral Israeli
action the U.S. administration believes will ultimately cost America

“Clearly this is an administration-orchestrated leak,” said Republican
hard-liner John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“It’s just unprecedented to reveal this kind of information about
one of your allies.”

What is clear is that Israel and Azerbaijan are drawing increasingly
closer for their mutual advantage and defense.

But Israel’s prime concern is definitely Iran.

Azeri security authorities, in conjunction with the Mossad, Israel’s
foreign intelligence service, have thwarted several plots to attack
Israeli targets in Baku, including a school and the embassy.

These operations were blamed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’
elite al-Quds Force and Hezbollah of Lebanon, Tehran’s main proxy in
the Middle East and widely perceived as being run by the Guards Corps.

The Mossad maintains a sizeable presence in Azerbaijan and reportedly
runs clandestine operations inside Iran from there.

Then in January, Israel Aerospace Industries announced it had secured
a $1.6 billion contract with a state that wasn’t identified, apparently
for censorship reasons. This turned out to be Azerbaijan and now a key
source of oil from the Caspian Basin for the West. The deal involves
the sale of surveillance drones and other security equipment.

Brenda Shaffer, Israeli’s foremost export on Azerbaijan, suggests
the IAI deal is primarily intended to boost Azerbaijan’s military
capabilities against its longtime rival, Armenia. The largely Christian
state occupies the Nagorno-Karabakh region, 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s

Israel has been supplying Azeri forces with unmanned aerial vehicles
since 2008. But the contract unveiled in January is far larger than
anything Baku has awarded an Israeli company before.

“To accompany the materiel that IAI is delivering to Azeri security
forces, many Israeli advisors, instructors and technicians will be
sent to Baku,” the Web site Intelligence Online reported.

“This increased Israeli presence … could facilitate the Israeli
intelligence services’ clandestine operations” in Iran.

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