Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei defended Tehran’s military drills conducted near the border with Azerbaijan which Iranian officials linked to Baku’s ties with Israel.
Khamenei didn’t specifically name a specific country but said: “The issues concerning Iran’s northwestern neighbors should be resolved wisely by relying on nations, through the cooperation of the armies of neighboring countries and by avoiding the presence of any foreign military forces.”
He added: “In issues concerning the northwest of Iran, the Iranian Armed Forces act with authority and wisdom. It’s good for others to act wisely too and not permit the region to face problems.”
He also said the presence of foreign forces in the Middle East were a “source of destruction” and urged neighboring countries to “stay independent” and “join forces.”
Iran’s army began on Friday military exercises near its border with Azerbaijan amid Tehran’s skepticism of Baku’s ties with the West in general and Israel specifically. Artillery, drones and helicopters participated in Iran’s drills.
“We do not tolerate the presence and activity against our national security of… Israel, next to our borders. And we will carry out any necessary action in this regard,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.
Azerbaijan and Israel have strengthened their military alliance in recent months, with Israeli-supplied high-tech drones helping Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region last year.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev expressed concern over Iran’s military drills near his country last week in an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu state news agency.
He described Tehran’s decision as “very surprising” because there was no such military exercises in three decades.
“Analyzing this at a certain point of time, we see that this has not happened before. Why now? Why exactly on our border?” Aliyev said.