Iranian Affairs Expert
Translated by Shaimaa Shedeed
Primary mission of Iranian intelligence in Azerbaijan is the prevention of using the Azerbaijani lands in military operations against Iran. This can’t be achieved without number of activities including influencing the Azerbaijani public opinion and Iranian assertion on the danger of extremist Islamic groups such as ISIS about which Iran said it was supported by US intelligence in addition to other hypotheses being marketed by Iran. All these hypotheses are being marketed by Iran while its mind occupied by the possibility of confrontation between the US and Iran and the Azerbaijani authorities’ willingness to help the US.
The Iranian Intelligence circles pay huge concern to the Iranian political immigrants in Azerbaijan and their relations with Turkish tribes’ sons in their motherlands and also to US and Azerbaijan Intelligence representatives. As well known, north of Iran and neighbouring Azerbaijan both form a united ethnic and cultural space of Azerbaijani Ethnos settlement (30 millions live in Iran, 8 millions live in Azerbaijan). Since beginning of 1990s was Baku Alanya and Since mid of last decade, behind the scenes, has been sponsoring activists of Iranian Azeri separatist movement. Actually, common borders linking between both states and resettlement of an only one nation in both states in addition to the traditional contact between Tehran and Baku create favourable conditions to use “Azerbaijan map’ in disrupting the situation in Iran.
Today, several experts agree that Iranian regime who had put the slogan of “exporting the Islamic revolution” since 1979 exert much efforts to topple the sectarian regime in Azerbaijan and to set up the Sharia legislation in this country. The Iranian intelligence system of the Revolutionary Guards takes on the essential mission of establishing theocratic regime in Baku in this frame.
Azerbaijani intelligence believes that supressing Islamic Republics in the Soviet Union was one of Revolutionary Guards’ activities. The Iranian Intelligence indeed could have strong and multi-pronged agents in Azerbaijan not only can extract necessary political, military and economic information but also take important active measurements. This was affirmed by former employee in Azerbaijani national security ministry Elham Ismail. According to him, Iranian private services could have big net of agents in 1993 in Azerbaijan were able to make provocations in Baku any time.
For example, by the end of August 2001, the Azerbaijani intelligence agency could detain 6 persons in south east of Jalilabad because they had been frequently in a mosque was suspected of cooperating with Iranian Intelligence. Besides, lists of 30 Azerbaijani citizens the Iranian Intelligence was trying to attract them to work in the ideological opposition against the Azerbaijani government in the borders area. Actually it wasn’t the first incident because the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry frequently supressed the activities of Islamists working for Iranian Intelligence. For example, a conspiracy plotted by Islamic Party in Azerbaijan (IPA) and financed by Iranian religious organizations in Baku was detected. At the same time, number of leaders and activists in the Azerbaijani Islamic Party most of whom had their education in Iran were arrested. In January 2007, some officers in the Azerbaijani Intelligence deviated 16 Islamists were taking orders from Iranian private circles for two years. In 2008, four Azerbaijani citizens were arrested in addition to two Lebanese persons were in connection with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Intelligence and Hezbollah. The main suspected one was a Lebanese citizen called Kerky Ali Mohammed who arrived Azerbaijan in 2007 to resume his work that he joined in 2005. In addition, there was other similar group discovered before his arrival in 2007 was consisted of 16 Iranian agents. This group was trained in Iran and according to the national security ministry, their mission was collecting information about embassy in Baku, the official representative and the economic facilities in addition to working with Israeli citizens in the USA. This group was sentenced to years in prison from two to fourteen.
All Iranian Intelligence elements detained by Azerbaijani national security ministry were involved in spying, preparation for destructive and terroristic operations and attempts to disrupt stabilized area that neighbours to Baku as Nardaran is located directly beside the capital Baku and known to be the citadel of the Islamist opposition. It also has good relations with Iran. In the summer of 2002, there was an armed clash between the Islamist opposition elements and the law enforcement forces as the Islamist opposition leaders were accused of cooperating with the Iranian intelligence.
In addition to the Islamist opposition, Iran has other influence elements including the sectarian perspective as 90 % of Azerbaijanis are Shia twelvers (Ethna Ashrya). Although the Azerbaijanis don’t believe in the Guardianship of the Islamic jurist ( Valayat e-Faqih), Iran works hardly to exceed such contradictions and to use Azerbaijan in its intelligence ambitions in the region. Actually, Iran fears from the ethnic perspective (Turkish Azeri) if it dominates the Azeri people in Iran. Although such perspective is secondary in the Iranian policy with its northern neighbour, it depends on it in the Islamist opposition. Thus, confrontation between Baku and radical Islamists will worsen the Iranian-Azerbaijani ties as it happened before.
Iranian Intelligence actually feels freedom in Azerbaijan as it planned before in 2008 to kidnap representative of Israeli Intelligence there as he was the coordinator with the Azerbaijani intelligence. In fact, Iran fears from the Israeli Intelligence activity in Azerbaijan as the British Times newspaper stated in February 13th 2013 that the Israeli Mossad was collecting information about Iran from the Azerbaijani lands. What’s more, Iran itself said before that the Mossad agents In Azerbaijan set out plans for assassinating the Iranian atomic scientists but Azerbaijan denied and described these charges with slanderous and defamatory. In this regard, Intelligence Agencies in central Asia made before a research about the expected threats to the national security in the frame of reinforcing ties with Israel. Big part of the relevant document was allocated to the possibility of revenge operations from the Iranian intelligence in cooperation with terroristic groups targeting the national security.
Iran reacts sensitively with the Israeli envoys’ penetration in the Caucasus region. In this respect, the Israeli reaction to the visit of former Israeli president Shemon Peres’to Azerbaijan in 2009 was serious. For instance, former Iranian Chief of Staff Hassan Fairuz Abadie commented on the visit saying that Peres visit to Azerbaijan would cause problems in ties with Iran, stressing that closing the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan had become “urgent” . In the beginning of April, 2010, a report about the Israeli Intelligence penetration in the Caucasus region was submitted to the Iranian Shura Council.
There is a cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan in field of intelligence and security. Israel provides Azerbaijani intelligence and security agencies with exercises and also supervises the security staff of the Azeri president during his visits abroad. Both sides also exchange confidential information about their enemies routinely and analyse images shot by Israeli satellites, which gives more credibility to the press leaks about the Israeli request from Azerbaijan to build listening stations by the Caspian sea. The security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan got deeper especially when Azerbaijan announced that it could foil a scheme from Hezbollah to blast the Israeli embassy in Baku. It also arrested 22 officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in charges of hostile activities against the US and Israeli embassies and number of western embassies. It is also noteworthy that Azerbaijan banned any demonstrations by the Israeli embassy during the war against Gaza in 2008-2009, which pushed an Israeli diplomat to say that the Israeli Intelligence feels at home in Azerbaijan and that Azerbaijan had been turned to an intelligence bridge for the Israeli security agencies that could have a solid place by borders with Iran. Meanwhile, former Azerbaijani military official Arestu Ourilou said that number of Mossad agents In Azerbaijan was less than the Iranian agents but the Israeli agents were more efficient and smarter.
We can say that the Israeli interest in the Caucasus countries and central Asia began clearly in 2009 especially during time of Prime Minister Shemon Peres and foreign minister Avigdor Liberman and their achievements whether in the Soviet space in the past or the Islamic world. For two years, Peres visited Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and so did Liberman. Peres also held meetings two times with the Kazakhstan leader and then could reach an agreement to establish an Israeli embassy in Turkmenistan.
From the Iranians’ point of view, such Israeli moves represents a challenge from their side as the basic principle of the regional strategy of former President Ahmadi Najad was preventing the increase of foreign existence against Iran or at least interference in Central Asia and Caucasus especially in the area of Caspian sea. This was frankly announced by Mannouchehr Mottaki, Iranian foreign minister in 2005 in the 13th international conference for central Asia and Caucasus held in Tehran but because of Peres and Liberman Nejad couldn’t fulfill this task. For that reason, it was logical for Nejad to choose Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in his first rout abroad in order to hit his first diplomatic achievement, the public support for his nuclear program.
Finally, despite the efforts have been being exerted by Iran to contain the intelligence and security space in Azerbaijan to meet the needs of its national security, it failed many times in achieving its goal. Actually, the biggest strike Iranian intelligence system had was its failure in foiling the operation called (Emad operation) carried out by Mossad from the Azerbaijani lands in which Israel could dominate number of confidential files relevant to the Iranian nuclear program. This operation was announced by Binyamin Netanyahu in a press conference in 2008. By this operation, the Israeli Mossad in January 2018 could penetrate a warehouse where Iran was hiding these files. There were in an abandoned warehouse in Shurabad, South Tehran. Then, the Mossad agents moved from a place near to the foreign ministry building in Tehran in two trucks and then went to their target. When they got to the warehouse, they could dominate 111,000 of documents , images and videos. Then, these trucks crossed the borders through Azerbaijan where a supportive team from the Mossad were waiting for them. Then the contents of the shipment arrived Tel Aviv through Baku airport. The contents of the files were analysed by the Mossad In cooperation with the CIA.