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Iran Starts Military Drills Near Azerbaijan Border


IRAN - A handout photo made available by the Iranian Army office shows an explosion during a military exercise by the Iranian Army in the northwest of Iran, close to the border with Azerbaijan,1 October, 2021.

Iran began on Friday major military exercises along its border with Azerbaijan which were criticized by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev earlier this week.

The Iranian military reportedly began massing troops there after Baku set up on September 12 a roadblock on the main highway connecting Armenia with Iran. The Armenian government controversially ceded a 21-kilometer section of the road to Azerbaijan following last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijani police and customs have since been collecting a hefty “road tax” from Iranian trucks and other vehicles passing through it, causing significant disruptions in cargo traffic between Armenia and Iran.

Aliyev said on Monday that Baku set up the roadblock because Tehran ignored repeated its warnings to stop Iranian trucks from shipping cargo to Karabakh. He described the Iranian military buildup as “very surprising.”

“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?” Aliyev told Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism on Tuesday. A ministry spokesman effectively linked the drills to Azerbaijan’s military ties with Israel, saying that Iran “will not tolerate Israeli presence near its borders.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian likewise told Azerbaijan’s new ambassador in Tehran on Thursday that the Islamic Republic is taking measures against the “Zionist regime’s activities against its national security.”

Tanks are seen during an Iranian Army exercise dubbed "Fatehan of Kheibar" in the northwestern parts of Iran, October 1, 2021.
Tanks are seen during an Iranian Army exercise dubbed "Fatehan of Kheibar" in the northwestern parts of Iran, October 1, 2021.

The Iranian army did not specify the number of soldiers involved in the exercises. The commander of its ground forces, Brigadier General Kiomars Heidari, was quoted by Iranian news agencies as saying only that they will be backed up by tanks, artillery, combat helicopters and drones.

Heidari also said the war games are aimed at assessing the army’s combat readiness and “testing” its weapons.

The Armenian government has reacted to cautiously to Baku’s decision to tax Iranian vehicles entering Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian suggested on September 15 the move is aimed at pressuring Armenia to open a transport corridor that would connect Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave. But he stopped short of demanding an end to the serious hurdle to Armenia’s transport links with Iran.

Pashinian’s deputy, Suren Papikian, told the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan on Wednesday that Armenia will complete by the end of this year work on an alternative road that will allow Iranian trucks to bypass the Azerbaijani roadblock.

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