Iran, Egypt and Gulf cautiously watch Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict

Previous clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2016 and in July of this year did not receive the same level of attention.

FILE PHOTO: Azeri men living in Turkey wave flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan during a protest following clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 19, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER/FILE PHOTO)
FILE PHOTO: Azeri men living in Turkey wave flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan during a protest following clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 19, 2020
The Middle East is closely watching the outcome of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is unusual, because previous clashes, in 2016, and in July this year, did not receive the same level of attention.
The reason for the heightened scrutiny is due to Turkey’s deep involvement in pressuring Azerbaijan to push forward and “liberate” territory as protests take place in Iran. Syrian fighters, mostly from the Turkmen minority, have been recruited to fight on the side of Baku.
Turkey’s ruling party, which has close relations with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, wants the region to see the conflict as both an “Islamic” conflict and one that is important to Turkish speakers.
On October 1, Turkey issued a statement claiming that “Jerusalem is ours,” which appears to link its foreign policy of threatening Israel to its policy of trying to fan the flames against Armenia.
Ankara stands to gain in ways from the conflict that are not shared interests with Baku. For instance, Ankara wants to use it to pressure Russia in Idlib where it has been trying to secure the M4 highway. There are rumors of Russia-Turkish discussions behind the scenes, trying to take over the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and link it to Syria where the north of the country has been partitioned.
Iran has a more sympathetic view of Armenia but there are millions of members of the Azeri minority in Iran and the country’s leadership fears local ethnic protest.
On Saturday, Fars wrote about Armenia downing an Azerbaijan military aircraft. Tehran is clearly watching closely what the outcome may be and it does not want the conflict to continue. It then ran a second article about Iran’s view of the conflict, arguing that Iran does not want spillover from the war and that it was warning the parties to stop fighting.
Meanwhile, media that is sympathetic to Iran and Hezbollah has also written about the conflict. Al-Mayadeen has noted that Turkey is “declining” and thus fanning the flames in the Caucuses. The same media notes there are clashes in the countryside near Aleppo, showing how Syria is linked to the battles in Nagorno-Karabakh.
One author notes: “It can be said that the Turkish-Azerbaijani military adventure in Nagorno-Karabakh is heading toward its end, and it can also be said that Turkey, or President Erdogan in particular, is on the way to losing another point of interest.” The author argues that Turkey’s leader is under pressure in Syria and in the Mediterranean basin.
Meanwhile, countries that tend to oppose Turkey’s aggression, such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have been less critical of the Azerbaijan offensive. This is because, while they view Ankara’s Muslim Brotherhood ambitions in Gaza and Libya as dangerous, they do not view Baku as a threat.
They would prefer, much as Israel appears to prefer, a good relationship with Azerbaijan and not to let Baku move too close to Turkey. Israel’s close relationship with Azerbaijan, ostensibly alongside Turkey, thus upsets some of the usual patterns of the region, where Ankara and Jerusalem oppose one another. It is largely because this conflict was seen as outside the Middle East alliance system until the last few weeks. Now, that alliance system takes on more importance from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Caucuses as it is all knitted together globally.
The general regional alliance system in recent years has cemented itself around several groups. There is the Israel-UAE-Bahrain-Jordan-Egypt-Greece-Cyprus group that is linked to Saudi Arabia’s role as well. Then there is the Turkey-Qatar-Gaza-Libya group that supports Tripoli’s embattled government, and the Iran-Hezbollah-Houthi-Syria regime-Baghdad group that includes Iran’s allies and proxies across the region.
Azerbaijan does not fit into these groupings because it has sought an independent foreign policy and has steered clear of Middle East disputes. However, it appears that some countries want to link these battles to the Middle East.
In a world where the dominant US role of the 1990s is changing rapidly, the influence of other major players such as Russia, Turkey and Iran is growing, and this means they will try to broker deals regarding this Caucuses conflict which will have major implications for the rest of the Middle East.