Iran Attack: Azerbaijan Throws Israeli Air Force Out After VT Exposes Plot – by Gordon Duff, Senior Editor – VT

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Prelude to World War III Outlined

Press TV just announced that Azerbaijan has assured Iran no Israeli attack would occur from their territory.  This is their announcement, from Tehran, moments ago:

OCTOBER 2, 2012 TEHRAN

Press TV – Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Pakistan says Baku will not allow Israel to use its airspace or land to carry out a military attack on Iran or any other country.

“AZERBAIJAN HAS BEEN FOLLOWING A POLICY OF NON-INTERFERENCE IN THE [INTERNAL] AFFAIRS OF OTHER COUNTRIES,” BAKU’S AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN DASHGIN SHIKROV SAID IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE PAKISTANI DAILY THE NEWSON MONDAY.

THE AMBASSADOR STRONGLY REJECTED RUMORS IN WESTERN MEDIA OUTLETS ABOUT HIS COUNTRY’S READINESS FOR PROVIDING ISRAEL GROUND FACILITIES FOR ATTACKING IRAN’S NUCLEAR SITES. “AZERBAIJAN IS MEMBER OF THE ORGANIZATION OF ISLAMIC COOPERATION (OIC) AND NOBODY SHOULD HAVE ANY DOUBT THAT IT WILL NOT PERMIT THE USE OF ITS TERRITORY FOR COMMITTING ACTS OF AGGRESSION AGAINST ANOTHER OIC MEMBER,” THE AMBASSADOR ADDED.

ISRAEL HAS RECENTLY STEPPED UP THREATS OF CARRYING OUT A STRIKE AGAINST IRAN’S NUCLEAR ENERGY FACILITIES. THE THREATS ARE BASED ON THE UNFOUNDED CLAIMS THAT THE PEACEFUL NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC INCLUDE A MILITARY COMPONENT.

IRANIAN OFFICIALS HAVE REFUTED THE ALLEGATION AND HAVE PROMISED A CRUSHING RESPONSE TO ANY MILITARY STRIKE AGAINST THE COUNTRY, WARNING THAT ANY SUCH MEASURE COULD RESULT IN A WAR THAT WOULD SPREAD BEYOND THE MIDDLE EAST

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Earlier this week, Reuters confirmed through two Azeri officers that Israeli forces were in place in Azerbaijan and that the president was weighing options of supporting their attack.  That text is now below from Reuters.  Their unedited full text  is at Addendum I:

REUTERS – YET DESPITE OFFICIAL DENIALS BY AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL, TWO AZERI FORMER MILITARY OFFICERS WITH LINKS TO SERVING PERSONNEL AND TWO RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCES ALL TOLD REUTERS THAT AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT HOW AZERI BASES AND INTELLIGENCE COULD SERVE IN A POSSIBLE STRIKE ON IRAN.

“WHERE PLANES WOULD FLY FROM – FROM HERE, FROM THERE, TO WHERE? – THAT’S WHAT’S BEING PLANNED NOW,” A SECURITY CONSULTANT WITH CONTACTS AT AZERI DEFENSE HEADQUARTERS IN BAKU SAID. “THE ISRAELIS … WOULD LIKE TO GAIN ACCESS TO BASES IN AZERBAIJAN.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Azerbaijan was “caught with their pants down” and is now trying to lie their way out of this.

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In an explosive turn of events, Press TV announces Azerbaijan has “turned chicken” after receiving a chastising based on receiving an early distribution of this  Veterans Today document through Russian sources.

Additional VT staff were, while at the Pentagon, responsible for drawing up the war plans, not just for the initial invasion of Iran but the American invasion of Azerbaijan, slated for 2008, as part of a Bush administration military takeover of the entire Caspian Basin.

The map for that attack by US troops from Iran is below:

US Army 2006 “exercise” plans predicated on a 2005 successful invasion of Iran, confirmed by direct Pentagon sources. (the author)

The cover sheet for the War Plans/Exercise Plans is below, a document that contained a full outline for needed capabilities for the successful takeover of all of the former Soviet Republics, beginning with Azerbaijan as seen on the map above.

Today, Azerbaijan announced it would allow Israeli planes to use their air bases to attack Iran.  Reuters published the press release from Baku, one originally released in Veterans Today 27 months ago.  From Reuters:

BAKU (REUTERS) – ISRAEL’S “GO-IT-ALONE” OPTION TO ATTACK IRAN’S NUCLEAR SITES HAS SET THE MIDDLE EAST ON EDGE AND UNSETTLED ITS MAIN ALLY AT THE HEIGHT OF A U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU EXUDES IMPATIENCE, SAYING TEHRAN IS BARELY A YEAR FROM A “RED LINE” FOR ATOMIC CAPACITY. MANY FELLOW ISRAELIS, HOWEVER, FEAR A UNILATERAL STRIKE, LACKING U.S. FORCES, WOULD FAIL AGAINST SUCH A LARGE AND DISTANT ENEMY. BUT WHAT IF, EVEN WITHOUT WASHINGTON, ISRAEL WERE NOT ALONE?

AZERBAIJAN, THE OIL-RICH EX-SOVIET REPUBLIC ON IRAN’S FAR NORTHERN BORDER, HAS, SAY LOCAL SOURCES WITH KNOWLEDGE OF ITS MILITARY POLICY, EXPLORED WITH ISRAEL HOW AZERI AIR BASES AND SPY DRONES MIGHT HELP ISRAELI JETS PULL OFF A LONG-RANGE ATTACK.

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This attack might have happened sooner without the break in the Turkish relations

An investigation done by independent intelligence organizations made up of former CIA, Army Intelligence and FBI personnel as published on June 18, 2010, discovered a plot between Israel, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan to attack Iran.

At that time, Israeli planes were training in Turkey on terrain meant to simulate Iran.  Israel would send over 8 planes at a time and 6 would return.  Sources report that two would fly to Azerbaijan where Israel now occupies two former Soviet fighter bases.

Israel was building a secret air force in Azerbaijan.  That “secret air force” is now no longer secret, it is public knowledge but few know its history or the threat to world peace this irresponsible act represents.

The bases were supplied through the Georgian port of Poti with cluster and bunker-buster bombs being delivered beginning June 10, 2010.  Units of the Russian Navy observed the deliveries and reported the incident to a world press that suppressed the story.  The ship delivering the illegal arms were flagged American, the USS Grapple.

In consultation with intelligence operatives, it was found that the USS Grapple had been leased to Germany who had then allowed Israel to use it to deliver bombs to the Black Sea port under American naval identity.

USS Grapple – ARS-53

WE HAVE SINCE LEARNED THAT TURKEY, DESPITE WHAT THEY CLAIM IS A HOSTILE RELATIONSHIP WITH ISRAEL, HAS ALLOWED OVER FLIGHT BY ISRAELI MILITARY PLANES WHO ARE USING TURKISH AIR SPACE TO RELOCATE TO AZERBAIJAN AFTER A TWO YEAR PERIOD OF DISAGREEMENT.

THIS RELATIONSHIP, NEGOTIATED BETWEEN ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU AND TURKISH PRESIDENT ERDOGAN INCLUDES PROVISION FOR TURKEY TO ASSUME PARTIAL TERRITORIAL CONTROL OF A BORDER REGION INSIDE SYRIA. 

TURKEY IS PLANNING TO SEIZE THIS TERRITORY AND CALL IT A “BUFFER ZONE” BUT THE “BUFFER” MAY INCLUDE UP TO 30% OF SYRIAN TERRITORY.

Israel and Turkey have agreed to “Balkanize” Syria.  However, the roots of today’s announcement were known some time ago.

On June 18, 2010, over two years ago, this columnist released the following information:

Would Israel take the gamble, or make the U.S. do it?

“A WEEK AGO, ISRAEL LEAKED TO THE PRESS THAT THEY HAD PERMISSION FROM SAUDI ARABIA TO USE THEIR AIR SPACE TO ATTACK IRAN. THE SAUDI’S QUICKLY DENIED THIS.

THE EFFORT ON ISRAEL’S PART WAS A RUSE TO COVER THEIR REAL PLANS, TO ATTACK FROM THE REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA, CLOSE TO IRAN’S NORTHERN BORDER.

HOWEVER, THE BREAKDOWN IN RELATIONS WITH TURKEY AFTER MISCALCULATING THE RESPONSE TO THEIR FLOTILLA RAID ON A TURKISH SHIP IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS MAY HAVE ENDED THIS OPERATION.

ISRAEL, WHOSE ARMS AGREEMENTS WITH TURKEY MOUNTED TO NEARLY 5 BILLION DOLLARS OVER A PERIOD OF YEARS, HAD BEEN TRAINING PILOTS IN TURKEY FOR BOMBING ATTACKS ON IRAN. DURING THESE TRAINING MISSIONS, ISRAEL WAS SMUGGLING AIRCRAFT THROUGH TURKISH AIRSPACE.

SOURCES INDICATE THAT GEORGIA HAS BECOME A MAJOR TRANSSHIPMENT POINT FOR NARCOTICS FROM AFGHANISTAN AND OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE REGION. BOTH A LAND ROUTE THROUGH TURKEY AND INTO NORTHERN CYPRUS AND AIR AND SEA ROUTES DIRECTLY INTO EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA HAVE BEEN CITED.

TURKEY HAD ALLOWED ISRAEL TO USE THEIR AIR SPACE FOR TRAINING BECAUSE THEIR TERRAIN CLOSELY RESEMBLED AREAS OF IRAN THAT ISRAEL PLANNED TO ATTACK. HOWEVER, TURKEY WAS UNAWARE THAT PLANES INVOLVED IN THIS EFFORT WERE BEING RELOCATED TO FORWARD STAGING AREAS IN THE REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA, MAKING TURKEY, TECHNICALLY, FULLY COMPLICIT IN THIS PLANNED ILLEGAL ATTACK.

Israeli F-15

HELPING COORDINATE THE ATTACK ARE INTELLIGENCE UNITS FORWARD STATIONED IN AZERBAIJAN, UNDER THE GUISE OF TECHNICIANS, TRAINERS AND ADVISORS UNDER THE BROAD ARMAMENTS AGREEMENTS WITH THAT SMALL NATION.

SUPPLY OPERATIONS, MOVING NECESSARY ORDNANCE, MUCH OF IT SUPPLIED BY THE UNITED STATES UNDER AMMUNITION STORAGE AGREEMENTS, IS BEING MOVED THROUGH THE BLACK SEA TO THE GEORGIAN PORT OF POTI, A MAJOR SITE FOR EXPORTING COAL AND MANGANESE ORE.

COVER FOR THE SUPPLY OPERATIONS IS BEING PERFORMED BY THE GEORGIAN COAST GUARD, SET UP BY ISRAEL AND MANNED WITH ISRAELI OBSERVERS. THEIR JOB IS TO KEEP RUSSIAN SURVEILLANCE CRAFT AWAY FROM SUPPLY OPERATIONS UNDER THE GUISE OF A “GAZA TYPE” NAVAL BLOCKADE OF ABKHAZIA, A SEPARATIST PROVINCE SUPPORTED BY RUSSIA.”

REUTERS, IN ITS STORY PUBLISHED TODAY INDICATED CONFIRMED SOURCES WITHIN THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY OF AZERBAIJAN.  REUTERS GOES FURTHER:

Israeli F-16

“YET DESPITE OFFICIAL DENIALS BY AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL, TWO AZERI FORMER MILITARY OFFICERS WITH LINKS TO SERVING PERSONNEL AND TWO RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCES ALL TOLD REUTERS THAT AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT HOW AZERI BASES AND INTELLIGENCE COULD SERVE IN A POSSIBLE STRIKE ON IRAN.

“WHERE PLANES WOULD FLY FROM – FROM HERE, FROM THERE, TO WHERE? – THAT’S WHAT’S BEING PLANNED NOW,” A SECURITY CONSULTANT WITH CONTACTS AT AZERI DEFENSE HEADQUARTERS IN BAKU SAID. “THE ISRAELIS … WOULD LIKE TO GAIN ACCESS TO BASES IN AZERBAIJAN.”

“ICEBERG” RELATIONSHIP

THAT ALIYEV, AN AUTOCRATIC ALLY OF WESTERN GOVERNMENTS AND OIL FIRMS, HAS BECOME A RARE MUSLIM FRIEND OF THE JEWISH STATE – AND AN OBJECT OF SCORN IN TEHRAN – IS NO SECRET; A $1.6-BILLION ARMS DEAL INVOLVING DOZENS OF ISRAELI DRONES, AND ISRAEL’S THIRST FOR AZERBAIJAN’S CASPIAN SEA CRUDE, ARE WELL DOCUMENTED.

ISRAEL’S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITED BAKU IN APRIL THIS YEAR.

BUT A LEAKED U.S. DIPLOMATIC CABLE FROM 2009 QUOTED ALIYEV, WHO SUCCEEDED HIS FATHER IN 2003, DESCRIBING RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL AS “LIKE AN ICEBERG, NINE TENTHS … BELOW THE SURFACE”.

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The unknown factor is Azerbaijan’s ability to withstand a massive and immediate ground assault from Iran.  US Army experts on the region indicate that Iran has a “superhighway direct to Baku,” the capitol of Azerbaijan and keystone to the massive Baku/Ceyhan pipeline.

Azerbaijan’s military, 45,000 active duty, a few thousand reserves and an unarmed and untrained inactive reserve of 300,000 veterans is extremely small in comparison to Iran’s military.

A REASONABLE ESTIMATE IS THAT, UNDER THE BEST OF CASES WITH SUPPORT FROM BOTH TURKEY AND ISRAEL, THAT BAKU COULD FALL IN 48 HOURS OR LESS, SHOULD THEY CHOOSE TO PARTICIPATE IN AN UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON IRAN.

If you are not getting a piece of the oil biz, drugs are the only option

Azerbaijan is closely aligned with Turkey.  However, they fought and lost a war in the early 1990’s against Armenia.  Azerbaijan lost 16% of their territory at that time.

During that war, Azerbaijan turned to Al Qaeda and Chechen forces for support, an act that angered Russia.  Azerbaijan is still a “safe haven” for terrorists and is commonly used to transit narcotics from Afghanistan and is a “way station” in human trafficking.

It is believed that an Israeli attack launched from Azerbaijan would unleash an immediate response from Armenia against Azerbaijan.  The two nations have been at the verge of hostilities for nearly two decades.

A recent estimate of regional forces paints a very dark picture for Azerbaijan:

SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION, ARMENIA HAS FOLLOWED A POLICY OF DEVELOPING ITS ARMED FORCES INTO A PROFESSIONAL, WELL TRAINED, AND MOBILE MILITARY. IN 2000, CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AND RESEARCH REPORTED THAT AT THAT TIME THE ARMENIAN ARMY HAD THE STRONGEST COMBAT CAPABILITY OF THE THREE CAUCASUS COUNTRIES’ ARMIES (THE OTHER TWO BEING GEORGIA AND AZERBAIJAN.

CSTO SECRETARY, NIKOLAY BORDYUZHA, CAME TO A SIMILAR CONCLUSION AFTER COLLECTIVE MILITARY DRILLS IN 2007 WHEN HE STATED THAT, “THE ARMENIAN ARMY IS THE MOST EFFICIENT ONE IN THE POST-SOVIET SPACE”.

THIS WAS ECHOED MORE RECENTLY BY IGOR KOROTCHENKO, A MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC COUNCIL, RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE, IN A MARCH 2011 INTERVIEW WITH VOICE OF RUSSIA RADIO.

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CASPIAN OIL SUPPLIES AT RISK

Check out the company names on these oil fields. All would be grabbed in an attack on  Iran as compensation for the pre-emptive strike.

The 1100 mile pipeline is the only outlet for oil from the Caspian basin to outlets on the Mediterranean.  A branch of the pipeline services the massive Kirkuk oil fields of Northern Iraq.

The pipeline is owned by a number of companies with BP having a 30 percent stake.

The 25% stake theoretically held by SOCAR, the state oil company of Azerbaijan is under Israeli control, as collateral to underwrite Israeli weapons sales.

Israel has an agreement to link to the pipeline through Iraq, a deal negotiated between the Elat Ashkian Pipeline Company of Israel and the US backed Chalabi government that assumed control of Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

It is no longer clear as to whether the current government in Baghdad is still interested in this project.

Additional threats to the pipeline are in Armenia, where it may also be intercepted and in Turkey, where the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group, has put the pipeline out of commission many times.

The significance of the pipeline is great in that, even if Iran has no rationale to cut oil supplies through the Straits of Hormuz, it could easily gain control of 5% of the world’s oil output and put all Caspian Basin oil off the market without in any way interfering with free transit of sea-lanes.

Additionally, the transit fees charged for use of the pipeline are a major source of revenue for both Georgia and Turkey, a source that would immediately end.

TWO “WILD CARD” ISSUES ARE RUSSIA AND IRAQ.  AS IRAQ’S GOVERNMENT IS NOW UNDER SHIITE CONTROL AND AZERBAIJAN’S RELATIONS WITH, NOT JUST ARMENIA BUT RUSSIA HAVE BEEN EXTREMELY POOR, THE CHANCES FOR THIS MOVE BY ISRAEL TURNING INTO A REGIONAL CONFLICT OR WORLD WAR ARE VERY HIGH.

TAKING INTO ACCOUNT TURKEY’S “HAM HANDED” PLOTTING WITH ISRAEL AGAINST SYRIA AND THEIR ATTEMPTS TO SPREAD INFLUENCE INTO CENTRAL ASIA, THEIR SHORT LIVED POSITION AS A POTENTIAL LEADER IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD HAS CLEARLY TAKEN A “BACK SEAT” TO IRAN, EGYPT, PAKISTAN AND INDONESIA.

Israel’s timetable to attack from Azerbaijan is entirely dependent on the risks their long time but highly secretive ally is willing to accept.

Minimally, Azerbaijan might actually disappear.  In a best case scenario, they would lose additional territory to Armenia and suffer total devastation of their oil production and processing facilities and destruction of their armed forces.

FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD, THE RESULT, AS EXPECTED, HIGHER GASOLINE PRICES, HIGHER FOOD PRICES AND MORE THREATS TO CURRENCIES ALREADY NEARING COLLAPSE.

Editing:  Jim W. Dean

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Addendum I

By Thomas Grove

BAKU | Sun Sep 30, 2012 12:46pm EDT

(Reuters) – Israel’s “go-it-alone” option to attack Iran’s nuclear sites has set the Middle East on edge and unsettled its main ally at the height of a U.S. presidential election campaign.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exudes impatience, saying Tehran is barely a year from a “red line” for atomic capacity. Many fellow Israelis, however, fear a unilateral strike, lacking U.S. forces, would fail against such a large and distant enemy.

But what if, even without Washington, Israel were not alone?

Azerbaijan, the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic on Iran’s far northern border, has, say local sources with knowledge of its military policy, explored with Israel how Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack.

That is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan – notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews – such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.

It could also have violent side-effects more widely and many doubt Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would risk harming the energy industry on which his wealth depends, or provoking Islamists who dream of toppling his dynasty, in pursuit of favor from Israel.

Yet despite official denials by Azerbaijan and Israel, two Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.

“Where planes would fly from – from here, from there, to where? – that’s what’s being planned now,” a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. “The Israelis … would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan.”

“ICEBERG” RELATIONSHIP

That Aliyev, an autocratic ally of Western governments and oil firms, has become a rare Muslim friend of the Jewish state – and an object of scorn in Tehran – is no secret; a $1.6-billion arms deal involving dozens of Israeli drones, and Israel’s thirst for Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea crude, are well documented.

Israel’s foreign minister visited Baku in April this year.

But a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009 quoted Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, describing relations with Israel as “like an iceberg, nine tenths … below the surface”.

That he would risk the wrath of his powerful neighbor by helping wage war on Iran is, however, something his aides flatly deny; wider consequences would also be hard to calculate from military action in a region where Azerbaijan’s “frozen” conflict with Armenia is just one of many elements of volatility and where major powers from Turkey, Iran and Russia to the United States, western Europe and even Chinaall jockey for influence.

Nonetheless, Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:

“Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling,” Musabayov told Reuters.

“I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.

“We have (bases) fully equipped with modern navigation, anti-aircraft defenses and personnel trained by Americans and if necessary they can be used without any preparations,” he added.

U.S. CONCERNS

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear it does not welcome Israel’s occasional talk of war and that it prefers diplomacy and economic sanctions to deflect an Iranian nuclear program that Tehran denies has military uses.

Having also invested in Azerbaijan’s defenses and facilities used by U.S. forces in transit to Afghanistan, Washington also seems unlikely to cheer Aliyev joining any action against Iran.

The Azeri president’s team insist that that will not happen.

“No third country can use Azerbaijan to perpetrate an attack on Iran. All this talk is just speculation,” said Reshad Karimov from Aliyev’s staff. He was echoing similar denials issued in Baku and from Israel when the journal Foreign Policy quoted U.S. officials in March voicing alarm that Azeri-Israeli action could thwart U.S. diplomacy toward Iran and across the Caucasus.

Israeli officials dismiss talk of Azeri collaboration in any attack on Iran but decline public comment on specific details.

Even speaking privately, few Israeli officials will discuss the issue. Those who do are skeptical, saying overt use of Azeri bases by Israel would provoke too many hostile reactions. One political source did, however, say flying unmarked tanker aircraft out of Azerbaijan to extend the range and payloads of an Israeli bombing force might play a part in Israeli planning.

Though denying direct knowledge of current military thinking on Iran, the Israeli said one possibility might be “landing a refueling plane there, made to look like a civilian airliner, so it could later take off to rendezvous mid-air with IAF jets”.

A thousand miles separates Tehran and Tel Aviv, putting much of Iran beyond the normal ranges of Israel’s U.S.-made F-16 bombers and their F-15 escorts. So refueling could be critical.

INTELLIGENCE COOPERATION

There is far from unanimity among Israeli leaders about the likelihood of any strike on Iran’s nuclear plants, whether in a wider, U.S.-led operation or not. Netanyahu’s “red line” speech to the United Nations last week was seen by many in Israel as making any strike on Iran unlikely – for at least a few months.

Many, however, also assume Israel has long spied on and even sabotaged what the Western powers say are plans for atomic weapons which Israel says would threaten its very existence.

A second Israeli political source called the idea of Azerbaijan being either launch pad or landing ground for Israeli aircraft “ludicrous” – but agreed with the first source that it was fair to assume joint Israeli-Azeri intelligence operations.

The Azeri sources said such cooperation was established.

As part of last year’s arms deal, Azerbaijan is building up to 60 Israeli-designed drones, giving it reconnaissance means far greater than many analysts believe would be needed just to guard oil installations or even to mount any operations against the breakaway, ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“With these drones, (Israel) can indirectly watch what’s happening in Iran, while we protect our borders,” legislator Musabayov said – a view shared by Azeri former military sources.

Less reserved than Israeli officials, the sources in Azerbaijan and in Russian intelligence, which keeps a close eye on its former Soviet backyard, said Baku could offer Israel much more, however – though none believed any deal was yet settled.

The country, home to nine million people whose language is close to Turkish and who mostly share the Shi’ite Muslim faith of Iran, has four ex-Soviet air bases that could be suitable for Israeli jets, the Azeri sources said. They named central Kyurdamir, Gyanja in the west and Nasosny and Gala in the east.

The Pentagon says it helped upgrade Nasosny airfield for NATO use. It also uses Azeri commercial facilities in transit to Afghanistan. But U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan is limited by Washington’s role as a mediator in its dispute with Armenia.

One of the sources with links to the Azeri military said: “There is not a single official base of the United States and even less so of Israel on the territory of Azerbaijan. But that is ‘officially’. Unofficially they exist, and they may be used.”

The source said Iran had been a main topic of talks in April with Israel’s Soviet-born foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

RECONNAISSANCE, RESCUE

Azeri tarmac, a shorter flight from key sites in northern Iran including the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant and missile batteries at Tabriz, might feature in Israeli war planning in less direct ways, the former Azeri officers said.

With Israel wary of its vulnerability to pressure over air crew taken prisoner, plans for extracting downed pilots may be a key feature of any attack plan. Search and rescue helicopters might operate from Azerbaijan, the sources said – or planes that were hit or low on fuel could land at Azeri bases in extremis.

Such engagement carries risks for Azerbaijan and its oil platforms and pipelines operated with international companies.

Defending against Iran is part of public debate in Baku. The United States has provided Azerbaijan with three Coast Guard cutters and has funded seven coastal radar sites as well as giving Baku other help in protecting its oil installations.

Relations have long been strained between the former Soviet state and Iran, which is home to twice as many ethnic Azeris as Azerbaijan itself. Tehran beams an Azeri-language television channel over the border which portrays Aliyev as a puppet of Israel and the West, as well as highlighting corruption in Baku.

Azerbaijan sees Iranian hands behind its Islamist opposition and both countries have arrested alleged spies and agitators.

Faced with an uneven balance of force, Aliyev’s government makes no bones about Israel being an ally. As one presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained: “We live in a dangerous neighborhood; that is what is the most powerful driving force for our relationship with Israel.”

However, Israel’s confrontation with Iran may turn out, the arms build-up in Azerbaijan, including recent Israeli upgrades for its Soviet T-72 tanks, may have consequences for the wider region and for the stand-off with Armenia – consequences that would trouble all the powers with stakes in the Caspian region.

“We keep buying arms. On the one hand, it’s a good strategy to frighten Armenia,” one of the former Azeri officers said of the shaky, 18-year-old ceasefire over Nagorno-Karabakh. “But you don’t collect weapons to hang on the wall and gather dust.

“One day, all these could be used.”

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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