Iranian forces began a military exercise close to the Azerbaijan border on October 1. The war games were named Conquerors of Khaybar, in an apparent reference to the Battle of Khaybar in 628CE in which Muslims fought against Jews in what is now Saudi Arabia. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev had criticized the exercises in advance, saying to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency in late September “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?”
It is the not the only set of drills to have caused tensions. On September 12, Azerbaijan launched a joint exercise with Turkey and Pakistan, prompting a warning from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in Ardebil province (which borders Azerbaijan) “not to play with the lion’s tail.”
A day later, Azerbaijani MP Gudrat Hasanguliyev said Iran’s own Azeri minority could cause trouble in the event of any conflict with Baku. Iran’s “direct and indirect support of ethnic separatism in Azerbaijan does not bode well for the territorial integrity of Iran, where 30 million Azerbaijani Turks and many other nations live,” he said.