Joint Azerbaijan-Turkiye Military Drills amid Growing Tensions with Iran
Author: Josephine Freund
Dec 14, 2022
On December 5, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense announced ongoing joint military drills with Türkiye. The drills were conducted in Baku, Astara, Jabrayil, and Imishli and concluded on December 8. Türkiye’s Ministry of Defense, however, did report that the drills began on November 20. It is worth noting that Astara and Jabrayil are situated along Azerbaijan’s border with Iran. Defense Minister of Türkiye, Hulusi Akar, explained that the purpose of the drills, titled the “Unshakable Brotherhood” exercises, were to “maximize the ability of the armies to work together, coordinate, and prepare for (possible threat of) war.”
These exercises come amidst an increasingly tense relationship between Azerbaijan and neighboring Iran. Recently, their relations have been deteriorating more openly. Before the joint Türkiye -Azerbaijan drills, beginning on October 17, Iran conducted large-scale military drills along its border with Azerbaijan, reportedly in the provinces of Ardabil and East Azerbaijan. These military drills, titled “Mighty Iran,” entailed exercises that were provocative to the underlying border tension between these countries, such as practicing crossing the Aras River, which defines a major part of the Iran-Azerbaijan border.
During last week’s drills, Turkish and Azerbaijani troops responded in kind by practicing installing pontoon bridges across the Aras river, just as Iranian troops did so controversially six weeks before. This move certainly delivered a sentiment that Azerbaijan, with Türkiye as reinforcement, would not tolerate such threats without showing its ability to defend itself.
As ties between Iran and Azerbaijan deteriorate, both Azerbaijan and Türkiye have been nurturing stronger ties with Israel. With Israel and Iran notorious for being enemies, Israel’s close relations with Azerbaijan have been both cause for and an effect of its deteriorating relationship with bordering Iran.
In recent years, Azerbaijan and Israel have been forging a strong alliance and have partnered in military cooperation, politics, and economic endeavors. This relationship has proved to be a point of tension between Iran and Azerbaijan. In 2021, Iran conducted military drills along its border with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev responded to these drills: “Why now, and why on our border?....There were no such incidents in the 30 years of Azerbaijan’s independence.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian responded to Aliyev by demanding Azerbaijan cease relations with Israel: “We do not tolerate the presence and activity against our national security of the Zionist regime, or Israel, next to our borders.” Azerbaijan responded symbolically by showing that it need not cower before Iran’s demands. When attending the ceremony for opening a border station in Jabrayil, President Aliyev posed smiling next to an Israeli produced Harop kamikaze drone.
Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan recently picked up when, following Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) military drills along the Iran-Azerbaijan border in October 2022, Iranian state-run TV aired a music video threatening Azerbaijan and Israel. The video on Iran’s Azerbaijani-language TV channel featured footage from the military drills along with the lyrics, “Israel … don’t stray too far from your path, don’t dig your own grave with your own hands …. Iran declares this so that Azerbaijan knows and understands … anyone who looks at Iran the wrong way must be destroyed.”
The U.S. government in reaction to these threats showed itsr support for Azerbaijan. Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, Ned Price Price, in a November 10 press briefing stated, “He [the U.S. Secretary of State] had an opportunity to see his Azerbaijani counterpart earlier this week. We’ve been very clear that Iran represents a threat to the region. We will continue to stand with our partners, to support them, and ultimately to stand against the kind of destabilizing influence that Iran presents and—in its region and perhaps beyond.”
Further to showing the United States’ solidarity with Azerbaijan, on November 12, U.S. Military Attaché to Azerbaijan, Colonel Kyle Matthew Cone met with Azerbaijan’s First Deputy Minister of Defense, General Karim Valiyev to discuss developing military cooperation.
The military drills on December 5 between Türkiye and Azerbaijan certainly demonstrated their commitment to bilateral cooperation. They also sent a message to an increasingly threatening Iran that neither country would be deterred in defending their territorial integrity, and also that they would not be told how to conduct their own affairs. Amidst the drills on December 6, Akar stated, “A friend for one of us is a friend to the other and an enemy is an enemy for both of us. There should be no doubt about this,” demonstrating Türkiye’s commitment to reinforcing Azerbaijan’s military and sovereignty. Overall, the recent military drills, first by Iran, and then by Azerbaijan and Türkiye, are emblematic of shifting alliances and power balances in the region.