Top American officials believe that Israel has secured access to airbases in Azerbaijan, possibly as part of its preparation for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Foreign Policy Magazine reported Thursday.
According to the report, three diplomatic source confirmed to the magazine that Baku has granted Jerusalem permission to use four abandoned, Soviet-era airfields, should the need arise.
Israel and Azerbaijan’s ties have been growing stronger over the past few months. In February, the two signed a $1.6 billion arms deal, which will see Israel supply Azerbaijan with sophisticated drones and missile-defense systems, the report said.
The magazine quoted an intelligence officer as saying that Washington is "watching what Iran does closely… But we’re now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it."
Washington, the report said, believes that there is a covert aspect of the Israeli-Azeri alliance and that "the security cooperation between the two countries is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran."
According to the report, in the event of a strike, access to Azeri airfields would rid Israeli fighter jets from the need to refuel in midflight during a strike on Iran.
Defense analyst David Isenberg told Foreign Policy that "the ability to use Azeri airfields is a significant asset to any Israel strike." In fact, he added, "being allowed access to Azeri airfields would be crucial," as Azerbaijan is strategically located on Iran’s northern border.
The magazine noted that both Israel and Azerbaijan were asked to comment, but opted to stay mum.
Meanwhile, a new report commissioned by the US Congress said that an Israeli strike on Iran would only halt Tehran’s nuclear project by six months.
The report says that the wide dispersal of Iran’s nuclear facilities would pose a major difficulty for Israel should it attempt to curb Tehran’s nuke program, the report said.
According to researchers, the potential effect of a military strike on Iran’s ability to acquire nuclear weapons is "unclear." Moreover, the United States and Israel cannot pinpoint all of Iran’s nuclear sites, researchers said.