Early morning of January 27, the Azeri embassy in Tehran was stormed by a gunman with a military-grade Kalashnikov assault rifle, who killed a security guard.
Iranian police arrived on the scene to detain the suspect and soon thereafter began the “blame game.” Authorities claimed the situation was isolated, perpetrated by a mentally unstable individual. However, as is customary with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the blame soon shifted toward the usual suspects – “the Zionists and their puppets,” or Israel and its allies.
Meanwhile, in the Jewish state the day prior, a barrage of rockets launched by Iranian proxy the Islamic Jihad in Gaza fell on southern Israeli cities, followed by two deadly terrorist attacks in the days after. A Palestinian gunman approached a synagogue in east Jerusalem on Friday, shooting and murdering seven civilians. The next day, a 13-year-old Palestinian made his way to the Old City of Jerusalem where he murdered two civilians before being neutralized by security forces.
Saturday evening, multiple military targets in Iran were struck by what sources claimed to be Israeli-sourced drones. One such target, a munitions factory in Isfahan, was completely destroyed, with video footage to corroborate the damage. Tehran reported no civilian casualties across all the areas struck while downplaying the damage done to the military installations.
These attacks came unexpectedly in the midst of the largest joint military exercise between the United States and Israel to date – “Juniper Oak 23,” which began January 23.
Iranian media and IRGC officials made haste to connect the incidents in Iran – the Azeri embassy attack and the bombings of military installations – immediately releasing statements calling out the “Azerbaijani-Zionist” cabal as the masterminds behind both attacks.
As the IRNA agency reported, only one installation suffered slight damage while others went unharmed, as “enemy drones were neutralized.” All the reports and footage with evidence of the destruction were proclaimed “Zionist propaganda.”
Simultaneously, the analytical journal Alef proclaimed that Azerbaijan, previously being a part of Iranian territory, constituted a threat to Iran. It stated that “since the early 1990s until now, the Republic of Azerbaijan has been a platform for anti-Iranian activities, including launching Israeli UAVs and assisting in stealing documentation on the Iranian nuclear program.”
A Telegram channel belonging to the IRGC also accused Azerbaijan of deliberately aggravating the situation with Iran, simultaneously calling the country “fake Baku.” The complete suspension of the work in the Azeri embassy in Tehran was not a measure commensurate with the murder of a security officer, which means that Azerbaijan supposedly has other motives besides protesting the attack, the publication claimed.
Additionally, the IRGC urged that Azerbaijan was in no way an equal to the Islamic Republic, but with the support and provocations done by Israel and Turkey, Baku may be led to wrong actions and decisions. Lastly, the IRGC posted discussions on how “Tel Aviv, guided by the goals of its own security, as well as Ankara, having its own geopolitical goals, are trying to push Azerbaijan toward the occupation of the South of Armenia.” And for Iran, it would be a casus belli.
Some Iranian sources started pushing a conspiracy theory that Israel was responsible for the attack on the Azeri embassy. Plenty of Iranian Twitter accounts have posted about the involvement of the Israeli spy agency Mossad together with Saudi and British intelligence services, and offered as a countermeasure to “annex Baku.”
The Khomeinist organization Hüseyniyyun – created by the IRGC’s Quds force to stir instability in Azerbaijan – did not react to the attack on the embassy in any official manner, but has issued statements in advance blaming Israel and Britain for, allegedly, “using the attack to advance their own dirty goals.”
Iranian parliament speaker, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, proclaimed that investigations did not reveal any signs of terrorist activity regarding the attack on the embassy. “At the same time, the Zionists and other enemies of Iran very much hope that this incident will be judged emotionally and will damage the relations between the two countries,” he claimed.
Strangely enough, even Russian pro-Kremlin Telegram channels started pushing a similar agenda, claiming that “the beneficiaries of the attack on the Azeri embassy are in the West, specifically the U.S.,” and that there are “certain difficulties” between Tehran and Tel Aviv.
However it may seem, the coincidences keep mounting. First, the Iranian-backed militia in Gaza fires rockets into Israel, then the Azeri embassy in Tehran is stormed while other Iranian-sponsored militias like Hüseyniyyun have already loaded their propaganda machine with the “Blame the Zionists” card.
European analyst James Wilson noticed these coincidences and had an explanation: “Against the backdrop of the recent exchange of letters between the parliaments of Israel and Azerbaijan, which were largely devoted to the common Iranian threat to both countries, such synchronization in time (of the attacks) looks at least symbolic, if not suspicious. It should also be noted that Iran’s incitement campaign against Azerbaijan has a clear antisemitic connotation.”
Obviously, Tehran continues its campaign of portraying Azerbaijan as the enemy through its association with Israel while actively trying to disrupt both countries through its terrorist proxies. Following the Israeli attacks on Iranian military installations, it is even more evident.
Although no official Israeli statements on the nature of the surgical strikes have been released as of yet, Tehran already resorted to both downplaying the damage done to its military industry as well as branding Azerbaijan a partner-in-crime. Iranian claims that Azerbaijan was the base of the UAVs which hit the Iranian installations show how hypocritical their stance regarding Baku is. On one hand, Iran keeps calling on Azerbaijan to maintain friendly relations and prevent escalation, but on the other, it is Tehran who keeps shifting the blame onto Baku and condoning hostile sentiment towards it.
It is elementary to predict where the Iranian regime is headed with this approach, and Israel must be willing to stand by its ally, Azerbaijan, to ensure its own security. A blow to Iran would be a blow to Iranian proxies in the region as well.
Ariel Kogan, Political analyst, Israel