Azerbaijan -- Again -- Accuses Iran Of Terror Plot
Police in Azerbaijan have arrested an Iranian and accused him of planning an attack on the Israeli embassy in Baku. In many places this would be big news, but it's become somewhat dog-bites-man in Baku, the government claims evincing more skepticism than alarm.
In the latest incident, Baku police arrested 31-year-old Hassan Faraji after he was seen near the Israeli embassy exhibiting "suspicious behavior." Israeli media have reported that "Faraji is a part of the Iranian Quds Forces, a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that, among other roles, is tasked with planning and executing terrorist attacks against Israeli targets overseas." Iran has denied that, while accusing Azerbaijani authorities of torturing Faraji, which Baku denies.
Anyway, this is the latest of a long string of plots that Azerbaijan has accused Iran of fomenting in Baku. The Bug Pit asked Anar Valiyev, a Baku-based analyst who as far back as 2007 was writing that the regularity with which Baku accuses Tehran of plotting attacks. Valiyev noted that this recent accusation is especially hard to believe, given that Iran is finally managing to work its way out of international isolation:
Iran, I believe, is not interested in attacking any facility on Azerbaijani territory whether the Israeli embassy or another embassy. By this they will lose credibility in the eyes of Azerbaijani people. Iranians are hardly interested in aggravating the situation especially now when the situation is getting better for them. As for Azerbaijani law-enforcement agencies this is nice opportunity to show the world that we are fighting with terrorists such as Iranians. They still think in Bush's administration parameters hoping that the West would agree with them as before. In fact the news did not caught attention except some Israeli press that is usually spreading it with zeal.
It's been a tense month between Iran and Azerbaijan. A shooting incident on the border escalated into a long closure of several border posts. And a dispute over who invented the game of polo even reached the United Nations.
Baku has a somewhat contradictory approach to Iranian threats. On the one hand, they often downplay real threats -- as one Baku official put it, in a Wikileaked cable regarding a naval dispute between the two countries, "'sometimes we prefer to close our eyes,' because possible courses of action appear difficult or unpalatable." But then it pumps up these terror plots which few believe. As the U.S. embassy in Baku wrote in 2007, regarding a similar alleged threat, "Revealing this incident publicly may have also served to highlight for Western audiences that Azerbaijan is under threat from religious extremism, including state-sponsored efforts by Iran, a point the [government of Azerbaijan] consistently emphasizes in our bilateral meetings. The revelation of a threat to diplomatic missions is new, and ...may be an embellishment." Publicly highlighting real threats -- which Baku can't really do anything about -- would just call attention to Azerbaijan's weakness. But claiming to have broken up plots keeps up the threat perception, while portraying Azerbaijan's security services as competent in protecting the population.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.