Iran-linked operatives plotted to assassinate US diplomats and terrorize the Jewish community in Azerbaijan as part of a broader campaign against Iran's enemies abroad, the Washington Post reported Monday.
According to the report, which cites unnamed officials with access to an intelligence report, new evidence has linked the Azerbaijan plot with Iranian-backed attempts to kill foreign diplomats -- including Israelis, Saudis and Americans -- in seven or more countries.
The report links Azerbaijan's arrest of 22 people on suspicion of spying for Iran in March to the embassy plot. After the arrests, the threats of sniper and car-bomb assassinations apparently declined.
According to the report, Iran deliberately eased off the plots as sanctions mounted and it decided to return to negotiations over its nuclear programs.
“There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to calm things down ahead of the talks,” a Western diplomat told the Washington Post.
It remains unclear, according to the report, how far up the ladder of the Iranian government the plot originated, whether it was explicitly ordered, tacitly accepted by Iranian intelligence, or simply the work of Iranian proxy groups like Hezbollah.
Israeli diplomats were targeted in India, Thailand and Georgia in February. Thai security authorities said they found a “direct connection” linking the attacks there, over which several Iranians were arrested, with the Georgia plot and India attack.
In March, Foreign Policy magazine ran an
article claiming that Israel had gained access to Azerbaijan
airfields to facilitate a possible attack on Iran.
have bought an airfield,” the report quoted an unnamed US official as
saying, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”
The following month, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman dismissed reports that Israel had obtained air bases in Azerbaijan to assist in an attack on Iran as “science fiction” and a “James Bond story,” while visiting the central Asian country.
“Such reports are from the sphere of science fiction and do not correspond with the truth,” he told reporters in Baku.
The two countries have a flourishing trade relationship, with a $4 billion turnover last year. Israel imports about a third of its oil from Azerbaijan, and Baku – according to foreign reports – recently inked a $1.6 billion arms deal with Jerusalem.
Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.