It has been an especially hot winter weekend in Baku, where the funeral took place of Orkhan Askerov, the chief security guard killed in a terror attack at the Azerbaijani Embassy on Jan. 27.
On that fateful morning, an Iranian man in his 50s entered the Azerbaijani Embassy holding a kalashnikov and attacked personnel. He was immediately blocked, but he had already managed to kill Askerov and wound two of his colleagues.
Following the terror attack, Teheran police chief Hossein Rahimi pointed to the motive being personal and family related. He also said the attacker entered the embassy with his two children. This appeared to be contradicted by footage from external and internal embassy CCTV, which showed the man running into the building holding the kalashnikov after having smashed his car into a parked vehicle. The Iranian police officer guarding the facility is recorded standing still in front of what had all the hallmarks of a developing attack.
Iranian authorities replaced police chief Rahimi – who previously defined the killing of Mahsa Amini an “unfortunate accident” – Immediately after his mendacious declarations, substituting him with Abbas Ali Mohammadian, who was subject to sanctions by the EU and the U.K. just last year.
After the attack, Azerbaijani authorities evacuated the embassy over Iran’s incapability of ensuring the safety of diplomatic personnel, and to comply with Vienna Convention. Diplomatic ties between Azerbaijan and Iran have now been severed.
Hostile and increasingly isolated state
Since the end of the Second Karabakh War in November 2020, Iran has displayed an increasingly hostile attitude towards neighboring Azerbaijan. This was exacerbated in the wake-up Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and further still when Azerbaijan opened an embassy in Israel for the first time.
Iran came to the point of conducting military drills at the Azerbaijani border, during which Teheran forces crossed the Araz river, mocking an invasion of Azerbaijan. For, months Iranian people have been bombarded with anti-Azerbaijani propaganda, calling the neighbor a Zionist State and inciting conflict and hatred.
The reckless domestic situation spells further trouble for strategically isolated Iran. Its reputation has already hit a new low since being discovered to produce and supply drones to aid Russia’s dirty war against Ukraine.
Russia’s influence on Iran
In fact, more than Iran’s own – ill-conceived – motives to trouble the Caucasus, Russia has been instigating its own brand of chaos on this chessboard. Iran has descended into increasingly confrontational and psychotic foreign and domestic policy instead of taking the opportunity to pursue peaceful regional cooperation. Russia’s encouragement of the “Iran syndrome” as chaos in the South Caucasus plays firmly into Moscow’s hands.
After brokering the ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia at the end of the Second Karabakh War, all Russian efforts there have been employed to prevent the ceasefire’s points being fully complied with. This serves to extend its “peacemaker” presence over the agreed five years – to secure a more ample and stable military foothold in the region.
Agitator in denial, Russia has lost face and soldiers in Ukraine, and has become increasingly reliant on local proxies to do its dirty work. Enter professional trouble-maker-turned-pariah-state Iran, which is a hostage to Russia’s will.
Drone attacks on Iranian facilities
Over the weekend, Iranian military facilities were bombed by drones of an “unknown country.”
Strikes were reported in the early hours of Jan. 29 at various sites, including quarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). On Monday, a convoy of Iranian trucks moving along the Syria-Iraq corridor was also bombed.
Iran has understated the impact of the drone strikes, but the much self-celebrated Iran air-defense, has shown itself to be pervious. Moreover, “whoever” conducted the attacks did not even intend for them to create maximum damage, since only a limited number of drones were employed in the weekend attack.
Following these events, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, flew to Teheran to invite Iran to sit at the table and negotiate a revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
The timely uncovering of Iran’s vulnerability leads to two conclusions.
Firstly, it means that the coalition balancing Russia’s sabotage in the South Caucasus and Middle East, is solid, active, and willing to put an end to provoked instability. While the suicidal option to raise the bar cannot be ruled out from Iranian side, Iran has certainly been shown to behave how Moscow wants. Should Iran refuse to constructively discuss its nuclear policy, it would almost certainly be targeted by further attacks, this time likely more severe ones.
Secondly, developments in Iran may impact on Ukraine’s war, by leading to further targeting of the production of drones used against Kyiv, and by opening up a front Russia cannot ignore, draining further forces from its already crippled Ukrainian campaign.
Actors in the region have a different understanding of diplomacy, strategy, and war, than Europe does. Here, calls of war are immediately responded to and convincingly tamed.
As an Azerbaijani newspaper brilliantly titled today: “Bombed – now you can talk with Iran.”
Claudia Palazzo is a geopolitical analyst focused on the Post-Soviet area and a researcher in intelligence studies.