Becoming yet more evident during this week’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Iran’s honeymoon with the United States is decidedly concluded. The U.S., no longer a partner in the passionately controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” and Iran no longer the recipient of bountiful American largess, namely $150 billion in sanctions relief, palettes of clandestine cash and copious additional resources.
Yet the theatre continues beyond the rhetoric and pomposity espoused at the UNGA. Just of late, Tweets (even from perpetually unhinged former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others), statements, Iranian State radio and television all vehemently attack the United States (and, of course, Israel), each promising violence and destruction in Goebbels-esque tirades.
Evidently, Iran is feeling the pressure. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani refused an invitation to meet with President Donald Trump, perhaps misinterpreting and confused that “playing hard to get” is no longer the way to receive vast concessions from the president and secretary of State, diplomatic maneuvers no longer on the United States’s menu.
In addition and a result of impending sanctions, the French oil giant, Total, nixed a $2 billion project to develop Iran’s South Pars gas field. Similarly, Daelim, a South Korean behemoth construction firm reversed a $2 billion deal with an Iranian oil refining company. Iran’s currency, the rial, continues to hit an all-time low. And, more sanctions are on their way from the Trump Administration, promising to put further and increased strain on the Iranian economy.
Predictably, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism isn’t coping well with these developments and certainly not peaceably. Tehran continues to fuel the civil war in Syria while building a military infrastructure with which to wage war on Israel directly. Iran also continues to fund copious terrorism perpetrated by Hezbollah, the PLO, Hamas and others (all darlings of European and American Leftists), against Israel and other Western nations.
One of the less-often discussed targets of the mullahs’ wrath is Iran’s neighbor, Azerbaijan. Perhaps because Azerbaijan is a small nation or due to their predominantly Muslim population, they are often left out of the discourse.
Yet Azerbaijan is the nation most key to the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) that will begin to alleviate Europe’s dependency on Russian and Iranian oil and gas; it is also most key to the building of a vital trade route from China to Europe, tracing the path of the ancient Silk Road; they have even built the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railroad and the ultra-modern and the colossal Port of Baku to accommodate this vast trade.
Azerbaijan, a pro-West, staunchly secular, Muslim-majority nation has always suffered from Iran’s attempts at political influence and violence; however, the Iranian mullahs have taken agitating and open disdain of their secular coreligionists to a new and vicious level. Azerbaijan also maintains close relations with Israel, with whom they have deep diplomatic, cultural, security and military arrangements.
Last month, suspected terrorist Yunis Safarov was arrested for the attempted assassination of Elmar Valiyev, mayor of Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city.
In 2016, Safarov spent eight months in Iran and fought in the Iranian battlegrounds of Syria. Azerbaijani investigators stated that “Safarov’s main purpose in committing this terrorist act was to establish an Islamic state governed by Sharia law in Azerbaijan…”
Importantly and utmost sinister: Safarov is a Russian citizen while his mother works for the FSB, the notorious internal intelligence agency of the Russian Federation and a pet of Mr. Putin. This is certainly not likely a coincidence and points to collusion between the Kremlin and Teheran. Investigations are ongoing.
A week later again in Ganja, on July 10, two unarmed Azerbaijani police colonels were savagely murdered, their hearts literally cut from their bodies with a tool akin to a medieval sword when “a radical religious group of 150-200 people” protested Safarov’s arrest according to Azerbaijani authorities.
The terror attacks appear to be the latest salvos in a decades-long Iranian effort to exert influence over the former Soviet republic, with whom it shares a 475-mile border. Notably, 30 million ethnic Azerbaijanis live in Iran, Often referred to as Southern Azerbaijan, these are not facts Teheran wishes to broadcast or to have the world aware.
Like Iran, Azerbaijan possesses an overwhelmingly Shi’a Muslim population, though, similarities stop there. Iran, generously speaking and, perhaps, not arguably, is a bloodthirsty, anti-Western theocracy, that envisions a Shi’a-led, pan-Muslim society beyond the Middle East and Islamic world, encompassing worldwide. In stark contrast, Azerbaijan is Western-oriented, secular and, plainly, just normal folks.
Article 7 of Azerbaijan’s constitution defines the country as a “law-governed, secular” republic, while Article 19 affirms the separation of mosque and state, as well as the equality of all religions under law.
Azerbaijan has a centuries-old tradition of tolerance towards its own Jewish population and that of all other ethnicities and religions. Any Jew in Azerbaijan will attest to never experiencing anti-Semitism amongst Azerbaijanis. Resulting from these ethics and morality, woven into the fabric of Azerbaijani society, Iran forcefully vies to transform its neighbor into another brutal Iranian-style theocracy.
Iran recurrently opens mosques throughout Azerbaijan, each teaching a decidedly Khomeinist form of Islam. These institutions goad Azerbaijan’s government for its secularism and recruit agitators from amongst an otherwise loyal citizenry. In response, Azerbaijan’s government closes many of them and introduces measures to guard against Iranian influence.
Yet Iran persists with its violent pressure and terrorism. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told Azerbaijan that only “promotion of imams’ teachings [will] lead to your country’s blossoming.”
During a visit to Tehran by Azerbaijan’s defense minister in 2012, Iran’s government hung the Azerbaijani flag upside down that a green band symbolizing Islam appeared on top. And in 2013, Iranian newspaper Kayhan called for a popular referendum in Azerbaijan on its reincorporation into Iran.
Azerbaijan’s energy sector is the latest stage for defiance of Iranian pressure. The Azerbaijan-led Southern Gas Corridor—spanning 2,200 miles, seven countries, and three pipelines—positions Baku as the key Caspian Basin exporter of natural gas directly to Europe.
Notably and decisively, SGC’s pipelines bypass Russia and Iran by running through the 60-mile-wide area, the “Ganja Gap,” named for the city. Is it a coincidence or fluke that the recent terror attacks in Ganja have coincided with major milestones in SGC’s progress?
President Trump has wisely taken steps to undo his predecessor’s blunders vis a vis Iran. The Trump Administration has prudently laid plans to intensify pressure on Tehran with sanctions and diplomatic maneuvering. This is a wise and solid course, yet it must only be the beginning.
The U.S. must bring its power and influence, including military and intelligence assistance to U.S. allies threatened by Iran. Namely, Azerbaijan should be at the top of that list, as it suffers from the diabolical advances of the amoral leadership in Teheran and its related terror and dangerous agitation with the goal of overthrowing this U.S. strategically.
It is in the United States’ interests and that of her allies to keep Iran at bay while protecting U.S. allies important to the security of Europe and the region.
Jacob Kamaras is a contributor at the Haym Salomon Center. His writing on the Middle East, American politics, and Eurasia has appeared in the Washington Times, Independent Journal Review, The American Spectator, The Daily Caller, and CNS News.01
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.