According to a report in the British media, citing the authoritative U.S. journal “Foreign Policy,” U.S. officials have said that Israel's military may have secured access to Azeri strategic air bases that could be used in an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
If the reports are accurate, then Azerbaijan has placed virtually all of its future oil exports on the negotiating table, as its neighboring export sources, Russia and Turkey, have repeatedly stated that they oppose such an assault.
Azerbaijan’s prosperity is totally dependent upon on its continued access to its main pipeline export facilities, the Baku-Novorossiisk exports via Russia’s Sea of Azov and the $3.6 billion, one million barrel per day, 1,092-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which traverses 669 miles of Turkish territory to ship Azeri Caspian oil to Turkey’s Mediterranean Ceyhan port.
So, why is Azerbaijan apparently now siding with Israel, given the risks? After all, Azerbaijan’s prosperity is totally dependent on peace amongst its fractious neighbors, who not only have outstanding international issues, but internal issues as well. More than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has yet definitely to reassert its authority over the northern Caucasus, and Turkey continues to grapple with a seemingly interminable ongoing military campaign by Kurdish insurgents to carve out an autonomous state in southeastern Turkey.
So, why is Baku apparently bedazzled by Israel’s military plans for a campaign against Iran?
One possible answer may lie in Warren Zevon’s tart observation, “guns and money.”
Last month Israel and Azerbaijan signed a $1.6 billion arms deal, which included Israel supplying UAV drones and anti-aircraft missile systems to Baku, leading a U.S. administration official to state on condition of anonymity, "The Israelis have bought an airfield, and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."
Relations between Baku and Tehran are deteriorating, as Iran is now accusing Baku of supporting a "group of killers trained in Israel hunting for Iranian scientists" even as Azerbaijan recently announced the arrest of 22 alleged Iranian spies.
Whatever the reality of the war of words between Tehran and Baku, the fact is that the use by Israeli F-15 and F-16 military jets of Azeri airfields would mean that they would not have to refuel on their way to Iran and, after an airstrike, they would be able to land at Azeri airstrips. This factor is of prime importance because Israel is short of aerial tankers and attendant experience in in-flight refueling, quite aside from the fact that strikes not mounted from Azerbaijan across the southern Caspian but directly from Israel could involve Israeli military aircraft needing to access Iraqi airspace, and it is unlikely that Baghdad would grant permission for IAF aerial tankers to conduct operations there.
Bottom line – Azerbaijan’s prosperity depends on regional peace so those pipelines can flow. An attack on Iran by Azeri-based Israeli aircraft put that prosperity at risk, even more so than internecine disputes amongst neighboring Caucasian states, such as the brief but brutal August 2008 Georgian-Russian encounter.
So, about those allegations…
Not true, says Azeri Department of Foreign Affairs head Novruz Mammadov.
"We are well aware of the processes taking place in the world and we know who and what goals they pursue. Therefore, we are no longer surprised by foreign press printing slanderous and biased pieces about Azerbaijan, as we understand why it's done. People more or less versed in politics in the United States, Iran, Israel and other countries are well aware what lies behind this kind of slander in this article and what lies behind it. They are well aware of Azerbaijan's position on Iran… Our position is also known as regards Israel and Iran. Therefore, the results of this Foreign Policy article’s author fantasy are a total lie and slander. I am confident that the goal of our enemies - to sow discord between Azerbaijan and Iran - is doomed to failure."
With Azerbaijan’s neighbors and essential transit countries, the Russian Federation and Turkey having repeatedly declared their opposition to any unilateral military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, Baku should carefully consider its options despite the purported inveigling and pressure from Tel Aviv, as in the event of an Israeli strike against Iran descending into the ‘fog or war,” it could be sitting upon its oil exports for quite some time.
As regards neighbors, Turkey still imports 90 percent of its energy supplies, primarily from the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran – and the BTC pipeline transits Turkey.
Azerbaijan lives in a tough neighborhood, and throwing a lit military match into a volatile oil-rich region hardly seems the wisest way to proceed – depending upon what you read of course, including such yellow press tabloids as “Foreign Policy.”
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com