Reports that Israel has access to airbases in Azerbaijan, Iran’s uneasy northern neighbor, could point to a strategic shift in the battle lines between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic — and could affect the smoldering U.S.-Iranian standoff. Having the use of air bases right on Iran’s doorstep would completely change the military situation for Israel by eliminating one of its major headaches: the distance its strike jets would have to fly to reach their targets in Iran and return to their bases. The round trip total in excess of 2,200 miles and would necessitate one — possibly two — in-flight refueling, during which the strike aircraft as well as their aerial tankers would be highly vulnerable. Israel only has a handful of aerial tankers, limiting the size of the strike force.
Having bases in Azerbaijan, a Soviet republic until 1991, would mean the attacking F-16I and F-15I jets could reach their targets without in-flight refueling because, if the reports attributed to U.S. officials are correct, the planes could land in Azerbaijan to fill their fuel tanks and head home. The Azeri government in Baku has denied it has made any deal with Israel and Israel has refused to validate the reports. But in recent years, Muslim, pro-Western Azerbaijan has established strong military and intelligence links with Israel while Baku’s relations with Iran have steadily deteriorated.
The U.S. magazine Foreign Report, in its March 28 edition, quoted four senior U.S. diplomats and military intelligence officers as saying Israel has been granted access to airbases in Azerbaijan…..
Now the whole issue gets rather murky. There are growing suspicions that the report, true or otherwise, was deliberately leaked by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama as a signal to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the leading proponent of attacking Iran, to back off unilateral Israeli action the U.S. administration believes will ultimately cost America dearly. “Clearly this is an administration-orchestrated leak,” said Republican hard-liner John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “It’s just unprecedented to reveal this kind of information about one of your allies.”
What is clear is that Israel and Azerbaijan are drawing increasingly closer for their mutual advantage and defense. But Israel’s prime concern is definitely Iran. Azeri security authorities, in conjunction with the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, have thwarted several plots to attack Israeli targets in Baku, including a school and the embassy. These operations were blamed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite al-Quds Force and Hezbollah of Lebanon, Tehran’s main proxy in the Middle East and widely perceived as being run by the Guards Corps. The Mossad maintains a sizeable presence in Azerbaijan and reportedly runs clandestine operations inside Iran from there.
Then in January, Israel Aerospace Industries announced it had secured a $1.6 billion contract with a state that wasn’t identified, apparently for censorship reasons…..
U.S. report shifts Israel-Iran battle lines, UPI.com, April 3, 2012