— David Streter
Last week, a noted “anti-Israel warrior” perpetuated a myth regarding Israel’s strategic relationship with Azerbaijan. Over the weekend, Israel’s Ynet reported that the White House flatly denied any role in the story and threatened to prosecute the source:
A top White House official denied Saturday that the US Administration was responsible for leaking information, alleging that Israel has secured access to airfields in Azerbaijan ahead of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, to the press….
The sources said that the White House had ‘no interest’ in leaks of this kind, adding that the administration would ‘gladly prosecute’ the people behind it — if they knew who they were….
Jerusalem and Washington, he added, are making ‘tremendous efforts’ on Iran and are working more closely than ever.
Israeli military analysts also debunked the substance of the story. According to The Times of Israel:
Israeli military and intelligence analysts on Sunday categorically dismissed the notion that Israel is considering using airbases in Azerbaijan to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities….
… Israeli analysts lined up Sunday to deride the idea as everything illogical, baseless, and impossible.
‘It doesn’t make any sense,’ said Ephraim Kam, the deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies and a former officer in the research division of the IDF’s Military Intelligence branch. ‘Azerbaijan has no interest in picking a fight with its neighbor Iran,’ he added. ‘It’s a relatively new country and I don’t see how it could possibly be in their interest to grant any assistance to Israel in an attack on Iran.’
Kam added: ‘If the Azeri were really to help Israel carry out attack on Iran, they would pick a huge fight with Iran, and if Iran decided to strike Azerbaijan, nobody would come to their help. In my eyes this scenario seems absolutely impossible.’…
Unfortunately, lamented Ehud Yaari, Channel 2’s chief political analyst and Times of Israel columnist, nobody made the effort to check whether the theories put forward by Perry’s article held water.
‘No one seems to have raised the real questions before rushing to publish or quote the Perry-tale,’ Yaari wrote on Sunday in The Times of Israel. ‘Elementary, Mr. Perry: How would the Israeli Air Force reach those airbases in Azerbaijan? Are the Israelis going to get a permit from Mr. Erdogan to fly over Turkey on their way to hit Iran? Does it make any sense? Or, alternatively, does Perry want us to believe that the Israelis will choose to bypass Turkey on their secret mission via the longer route over Greece and Bulgaria, thus becoming fully exposed to Russian radar in the Black Sea? Take a look at the map, Mr. Perry — there is no other way for the Israelis to get to Azerbaijan!’
Yaari also dismissed the idea that Israeli jets could use Azeri airfields on their way back to Israel after a strike. ‘How can Azerbaijan possibly afford to cooperate in an attack on Iran when it depends on Iran entirely for maintaining control over that significant part of this country, the Nakhichevan region, an exclave and autonomous republic of Azerbaijan that is totally separated from the main Azeri territory by its archenemy, Armenia?’
Shlomo Brom, a former chief of the IDF’s strategic planning division, agrees that the theory put forward by Perry’s article doesn’t seem logical.
‘This is utterly baseless. Azerbaijan is a small country that borders on Iran. It just doesn’t make sense they would help Israel attack them. It would be suicidal,’ Brom told The Times of Israel.
Brom added: ‘It is known that Mark Perry is not a huge fan of Israel. What probably happened is that he took a kernel of truth — that Israel and Azerbaijan have good bilateral cooperation, just like Israel has many other strategic alliances in the world, for example with India — and turned it into something that is it not, which is military cooperation on a strike on Iran.’
In his full piece picking apart the story, Yaari noted:
The truth is that Perry’s piece did not deserve the attention. The veteran anti-Israel warrior has simply taken advantage of the negligent naivety of Foreign Policy’s editors in order to plant one more of his cloak-and-dagger patchwork stories aimed at undermining the state he intensely detests….
The fact that Azerbaijan maintains close relations with Israel — including big arms and oil deals — does not justify flights of fantasy. Serious debate requires down-to-earth discussion based on facts and then a grain of common sense. The discourse about the way to tackle Iran’s nuclear challenge is far too fateful to allow it to be hijacked by the likes of ‘author and historian’ Mark Perry.