Azerbaijan Is Now Between a Rock and Iran



"Fate chooses your relations, you choose your friends." — French poet Jacques Delille
Azerbaijan's recent arrest of 22 people on suspicion of plotting Iran-backed attacks on the U.S and Israeli embassies in Baku — not the first such plot — provides the latest evidence that Azerbaijan exists between a rock and a hard place.
Iran's determination to bring Azerbaijan into its destroy-Israel program has been thwarted by Azerbaijan's friendship and trade partnerships with the Jewish state. 
Tensions between the Islamic republic and Azerbaijan, a Muslim, yet secular, Western-oriented nation, are edgy at best, due to the arrests of these suspects linked to Tehran. Iran also has made no secret of its anger over Baku's purchase of hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons from the Jewish state. They are building armored personnel carriers and unmanned aerial vehicles together.
Still, remaining friendly with Iran is not only in the best interests of Azerbaijan, it is imperative for its survival.
The complexity of Azerbaijan's relationships underscores the need to view the Muslim world with more sophistication than is usually the case.
Is it fair to characterize a single religion as the arbiter of evil? Do all Muslims deserve an extremist label or wish for the demise of the United States and Israel? Can an extremist element speak the voice of two billion people?
Azerbaijan's relations with Israel and the West dispel these myths.The focus is mistakenly upon radical Islam instead of a moderate approach.
Blaming religion for the ills of mankind is nothing new and remains a perfect catchall for the evils of the world. One is unhappily reminded of the anti-Semitic posture of the world.
Of course there is some basis for blaming religion when too many extremists corrupt religion to suit an evil purpose. But this in no way jibes with so many of the Muslim faith, particularly in Azerbaijan, a nation of 9 million people.
Despite pressure from Iran, this Muslim nation has prospered while retaining the tenets of its religious beliefs. Azerbaijan's determination to build a friendship with Israel and the West in the face of threats from Iran is proof that saner minds can ultimately prevail.
Despite today's Islamophobic climate, Azerbaijan displays a true Muslim sense of nationalism and moderation.
Iran makes no secret of its displeasure over Azerbaijan's moderate stance as the country remains in between Iran and its "friend" Russia.
Other events highlight the pressure on Azerbaijan from its bullying neighbors. Iran worries that Israel will use Azerbaijan's southern border to attack. Israel has also reportedly established new intelligence and military links there.
The reality is that Iran's covert operations in Azerbaijan seek to establish a foothold there just as its tentacles have extended into Jordon, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. 
The Azerbaijanis are forward thinking, evidenced by the balanced foreign policy of President Ilham Aliyev. Their first lady, Mehriban Aliyev, a physician, is clearly a modern woman. Azerbaijanis, like most moderate Muslims, want to live and practice their religion without insanity or extremism.
A Jewish and Muslim nation, existing as friends and fighting against extremism, in a world fraught with animosity and anger is a positive image upon which to focus. 
Norma Zager is an expert on Muslim-Jewish relations and Eurasian affairs.


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