Azerbaijan has granted Israel access to airbases in its territory along Iran's northern border for potential use in a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, a report published Wednesday in Foreign Policy magazine quoted senior US officials as saying.
"The Israelis have bought an airfield," an official said, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."
Even if Israel doesn't use the fields for a direct air strike on Iran, Azerbaijan could still prove useful for Jerusalem's interests in the region. The bases could be used as a jumping point for IDF search-and-rescue units, the report quoted a US intelligence official as saying.
Azerbeijan's defense ministry denied the report, AFP reported Thursday.
According to AFP, defense ministry spokesman Teymur Abdullayev said, "This information is absurd and groundless."
The Foreign Policy report by journalist Mark Perry, said the Obama administration believes the Jerusalem-Baku relationship is raising the risk of an Israeli strike on Iran. Senior US officials have said that Israel's military expansion into Azerbaijan is complicating US efforts to defuse Israeli-Iranian tensions. "We're watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we're not happy about it," one official said.
The relationship between Israel and the predominantly Muslim country on Iran's northern border is believed to be robust. The Foreign Policy report quoted a 1995 article in The Jerusalem Post as saying bilateral relations started in 1994 and have blossomed ever since. "Strauss ice cream, cell phones produced by Motorola's Israeli division, Maccabi beer, and other Israeli imports are ubiquitous [in Azerbaijan]," the Jerusalem Post article stated.
The unlikely bilateral relationship has taken center stage in the media this year.
In January, Azeri authorities implicated an Iranian citizen in a plot to kill Jewish teachers at a Jewish school in Baku.
A report published last month in The Times of London said that Azerbaijan is teeming with Mossad agents working to collect intelligence on the Islamic Republic of Iran, quoting an unnamed agent as saying that Baku was "ground zero for intelligence work."
Later in the month, Israeli officials confirmed a $1.6 billion defense deal with Baku
that will see Jerusalem supplying the former Soviet state with unmanned aerial vehicles and missile defense systems.
Earlier this month, Azerbaijani police arrested 22 people, including one Iranian citizen, suspected of plotting attacks against US and Israeli targets across the country. Baku tied the plot to Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).