Friday, March 30, 2012

Israel and Azerbaijan

Something has been troubling me about Israel's focus on attacking Iran. Conspiracy theorists are all saying that Israel has been secretly given the go-ahead for an attack by the US. Political pundits are saying President Obama is using to situation in Syria as a way of appearing tough on foreign policy and by extension keeping Iran in check.

But given Israel's history in warfare, attacking Iran's nuclear facilities would lead to hostilities on its northern border. The Egyptian government is no longer friendly towards Israel and could cause problems for Israel on its souther flank. Therefore, the only way it makes sense for Israel to attack is they have another partner backing their play. The US does not seem to be in a position to back an Israeli led attack against Israel. The presence of Russian warships off the coast of Syria seems to be specifically to prevent US led airstrikes. If US airstrikes can be neutralized, or at least reduced, against Syria then strikes against Iran are even less likely to be successful.

But what if Israel's plans did not have to rely (or wait) for US airstrikes? According to an article on Foreign Policy, Israel has had a relationship with Azerbaijan since 1994. There are four airbases leftover from when Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union that could be used to recover Israeli fighters.

Azerbaijan - a nation with a majority-Turkic and majority-shia Muslim population - was briefly independent from 1918 to 1920; it regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region that Moscow recognized as part of Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s after Armenia and Azerbaijan disputed the status of the territory. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Source: CIA Factbook

But if Israel gains access to runways and a means of flanking Iran's northern border, what does Azerbaijan gain? According to Foreign Policy:

Israel's deepening relationship with the Baku government was cemented in February by a $1.6 billion arms agreement that provides Azerbaijan with sophisticated drones and missile-defense systems. At the same time, Baku's ties with Tehran have frayed: Iran presented a note to Azerbaijan's ambassador last month claiming that Baku has supported Israeli-trained assassination squads targeting Iranian scientists, an accusation the Azeri government called "a slander." In February, a member of Yeni Azerbadzhan -- the ruling party -- called on the government to change the country's name to "North Azerbaijan," implicitly suggesting that the 16 million Azeris who live in northern Iran ("South Azerbaijan") are in need of liberation.Foreign Policy

Israel now gains not only a military advantage but also has politicized the plight of the Azeris in Northern Iran. But this also explains why Israel and Turkey have been having issues in the last few years.

The deepening Azeri-Israeli relationship has also escalated Israel's dispute with Turkey, which began when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship destined for Gaza in May 2010, killing nine Turkish citizens. When Turkey demanded an apology, Israel not only refused, it abruptly canceled a $150 million contract to develop and manufacture drones with the Turkish military -- then entered negotiations with Azerbaijan to jointly manufacture 60 Israeli drones of varying types. The $1.6 billion arms agreement between Israel and Azerbaijan also left Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "sputtering in rage," according to a retired U.S. diplomat.

The centerpiece of the recent arms deal is Azerbaijan's acquisition of Israeli drones, which has only heightened Turkish anxieties further. In November 2011, the Turkish government retrieved the wreckage of an Israeli "Heron" drone in the Mediterranean, south of the city of Adana -- well inside its maritime borders. Erdogan's government believed the drone's flight had originated in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and demanded that Israel provide an explanation, but got none. "They lied; they told us the drone didn't belong to them," a former Turkish official told me last month. "But it had their markings."Foreign Policy

Baku may be familiar to those of you that follow oil or know a little history of Rockefeller. Standard Oil had discovered huge oil reserves in Ohio and Pennsylvania but nothing like the oil reserves that were discovered in Baku in 1883. Standard Oil perfected its fracking techniques specifically to refine the thicker crude oil from Baku. Rockefeller was in direct competition with the Russians to gain access over the Baku oil fields but ultimately, the Russians took control.

The history of oil in Baku is important in understanding why Turkey is uneasy with the Israel-Azerbaijan relationship. But perhaps the best way to understand their concerns is by looking at the below map:

The Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline is a 1,099 mile long crude oil pipeline from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It connects Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan; Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia; and Ceyhan, a port on the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. In part, this has allowed Turkey to gain greater economic influence. Russian specialists claim that the pipeline will weaken the Russian influence in the Caucasus. Hence Russia's support of Syria and reluctance to condemn Iran's nuclear program. The Russian Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev stated that the United States and other Western countries are planning to station soldiers in the Caucasus on the pretext of instability in regions through which the pipeline passes.

Israel also gains access to the Baku oil fields which means it doesn't not need to worry about situations in Iran or Libya effecting the cost of energy. Israel is unlikely to back down from a confrontation with Iran and the US really isn't in a position to say one way or the other. Israel can destroy what it perceives as a grave threat (Iran's nuclear program) and recover its fighters safely in a friendly territory. The ramifications though of such an attack are huge. Turkey and Russia will view Israel's presence in Baku as destabilizing and aggressive. Russia will especially view the Israeli as a threat to its oil fields. Turkey will view the Israeli presence as a threat which could lead to Turkey eventually attacking Israel. The US is out of position to effect any influence on these matters. The US has decided it does not want a nuclear Iran, preventing an Israeli attack would essentially endorse Tehran's plans. Further, the US is not interested in a conflict that may pit US forces against Russia.

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