Iran Tries to Bully Azerbaijan into Distancing Itself from Israel

At the end of last month, the Islamic Republic conducted major military exercises near its border with Azerbaijan, a country that has deep and ancient connections with Iran. Since Azerbaijan and its neighbor, Armenia, became independent from the Soviet Union, Tehran has joined Moscow in backing the latter, while Baku has aligned itself with the West and developed strong ties with the Jewish state. Eran Lerman analyzes the situation from an Israeli perspective:

The Iranian maneuvers near Azerbaijan’s borders . . . were designed to intimidate the leadership in Baku, to deter it from curbing Iran’s illegal [oil] trade with Armenia, and to force Azerbaijan to downgrade its strategic relationship with Israel. . . . As tensions rise over its nuclear program, Tehran apparently hopes . . . to warn countries in the region against offering any assistance to Israel and other forces aligned against the Iranian regime. Ultimately, Iran seeks to frustrate what they suspect to be Israel’s plans and to deter Israeli leadership from acting against Iran.

Thus, the implications of Iranian pressure on Azerbaijan extend well beyond the confines of the southern Caucasus. It adds to a growing list of points of friction where the Iranian regime is overtly seeking to test the limits of international, Western, and ultimately Israeli (and Arab) responses. Israel must tread carefully in this complex region, where ancient hatreds often dominate. Explicit statements should be avoided. While the existing understandings with the Azeri government should be upheld and discreet intelligence sharing should continue, it would be unwise for Israel to make any commitments that cannot be realized, and that might exacerbate regional tensions.

At the same time, at the diplomatic level and as part of a broader discussion on Iran’s intentions and actions, Israel cannot ignore the Iranian pattern of intimidation. This should be one of the focal points in Israel’s ongoing effort to alert the U.S. administration and its Western allies to the escalating danger inherent in leaving Iranian actions unanswered.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israel diplomacy, Israeli Security

Ordinary Gazans Are Turning against Hamas—and Its Western Sympathizers

In the past few days, difficult-to-confirm reports have emerged of unrest in the Gaza Strip, and of civilians throwing stones at Hamas operatives. A recent video from Al Jazeera showed a Gazan declaring that “God will bring Qatar and Turkey to account” for the suffering of Palestinians in the current war. Being an agent of the Qatari government, the journalist turned away, and then pushed the interviewee with his hand to prevent him from getting near the microphone. Yet this brief exchange contributes much to the ongoing debate about Palestinian support for Hamas, and belies the frequent assertion by experts that the Israeli campaign is only “further radicalizing” the population.

For some time, Joseph Braude has worked with a number of journalists and researchers to interview ordinary Gazans under circumstances where they don’t fear reprisals. He notes that the sorts of opinions they share are rarely heard in Western media, let alone on Al Jazeera or Iran-sponsored outlets:

[A] resident of Khan Younis describes how locals in a bakery spontaneously attacked a Hamas member who had come to buy bread. The incident, hardly imaginable before the present war, reflects a widespread feeling of “disgust,” he says, after Gazan aspirations for “a dignified life and to live in peace” were set back by the Hamas atrocities of October 7.

Fears have grown that this misery will needlessly be prolonged by Westerners who strive, in effect, to perpetuate Hamas rule, according to one Gazan woman. Addressing protesters who have taken to the streets to demand a ceasefire on behalf of Palestinians, she calls on them to make a choice: “Either support the Palestinian people or the Hamas regime that oppresses them.” If protesters harbor a humanitarian motive, she asks, “Why don’t we see them demonstrating against Hamas?”

“Hamas is the destruction of the Palestinian people. We’ve had enough. They need to be wiped out—because if they remain, the people will be wiped out.”

You can watch videos of some of the interviews by clicking the link below.

Read more at Free Press

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion