(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Azerbaijan, a small Eurasian country which shares a border with Iran, is teeming with Mossad agents working to collect intelligence on the happenings within the Islamic Republic, The Times Of London reported Saturday, citing testimony from an anonymous agent active in the country referred to only as "Shimon."
“This is ground zero for intelligence work," Shimon told The Times. "Our presence here is quiet, but substantial. We have increased our presence in the past year, and it gets us very close to Iran. This is a wonderfully porous country.”
According to Shimon, the border with Iran, just hours south of Azerbaijan's capital of Baku is prime territory to gather intelligence about Tehran's activities. "There is a great deal of information there from people who regularly and freely travel across the borders. It is unregulated — almost. Except for the Iranians who are watching us watch them,” he said.
There are even more members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Azerbaijan than Israeli agents, but their methods differ from those of the Mossad men, Shimon told The Times
. "The Iranians act in the open, they want everyone to know that they are here. The Israelis are more subtle, like the Americans. But in the end everyone knows they are here too.”
According to The Times
, Israel has capitalized on tensions straining the traditionally close relationship between Iran and Azerbaijan in order to gain a foothold in the Eurasian country. The strained relations stem from the mistreatment of Azeris in Iran and Tehran's growing ties with Armenia, a territorial rival of Azerbaijan.
Some Azerbaijanis with close ties to Iran have not viewed improved ties with Israel kindly. Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry revealed last month
that it had uncovered a cell planning terrorist attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in Baku . Two Azerbaijanis and an Iranian citizen living in Iran were implicated in the plot. The two Azerbaijanis were arrested.
Conflicting reports have emerged about the terror plot.
While local media said an Iranian-backed terror cell had planned to kill Jewish teachers at the Or Avner Jewish school just outside the capital Baku, other reports in the media claimed the men were offered $150,000 by Iran to assassinate Israel’s Ambassador Michael Lotem.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in the aftermath
of the plot that Baku would continue to cooperate with Israel, especially on homeland security issues.Herb Keinon and Gil Shefler contributed to this report.