The Iranian Army has announced on Thursday that Iran will hold a military drill on Friday near the border with Azerbaijan, amid rising tensions between the two countries over the imposition of a “road tax” on Iranian lorries shipping fuel and other goods to neighbouring Armenia.
The Commander of the Army’s Infantry Brig. Gen. Kioumars Heydari said that the exercise would be held with the aim of improving combat readiness.
The drill is dubbed as ‘Conquerors of Khaybar’ in reference to the battle of Khaybar which was fought in 628 CE between Muslims and Jews.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman on Thursday said that the drills near the border with Azerbaijan were a “question of sovereignty,” adding that Tehran “will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime” near its borders – a reference to Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel.
The announcement came after Azeri President Ilham Aliyev earlier this week criticised Iran for holding military drills near his country’s borders
Earlier in an interview, Aliyev had said, “Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It’s their sovereign right. But why now, and why on our border?”
“Why weren’t the drills held when the Armenians were in the Jabrayil, Fizuli and Zangilan regions? Why is this being done after we liberated these lands, after 30 years of occupation?” he added.
The President had expressed his concerns and had said that he was “very surprised” by Iran’s decision to hold military drills close to their border amid tension between the two neighbours over a key transport route.
Mr Aliyev had expressed his astonishment in the interview saying, “Why now and why near our borders?” adding that Iran had not held military exercises near their border since the inception of Azerbaijan almost 30 years ago.
The tension between Baku and Tehran flared in recent weeks after Azerbaijani police and customs officials began imposing a “road tax” on Iranian lorries shipping fuel and other goods to neighbouring Armenia.
Iran and Azerbaijan have a shared border of around 700 kilometres. Iran also has a large ethnic Azeri population, the majority of whom live in its northwestern regions. They make up Iran’s largest minority group.
Iranian officials have also told private companies to stop transporting goods to Nagorno-Karabakh, he said.
Iran has also been sceptical of Azerbaijan’s links to Israel, a key supplier of drones and other weapons that helped Baku tip the military balance in its favour in last year’s war with Armenia.