TEHRAN: Iran will hold a military exercise on Friday near the border with Azerbaijan, the Iranian army announced on Thursday, amid tensions between the two countries over drills.
According to Gen. Kioumars Heydari, commander of the army’s ground forces, the exercise will be held “with the aim of improving combat readiness” in northwest Iran.
The drill is dubbed “Conquerors of Khaybar” in reference to the battle of Khaybar, fought in 628 CE between Muslims and Jews.
The state-run IRNA news agency’s report did not specify the exact area the exercise would cover. But the drill, which starts on Friday, is bound to put Iranian troops and weapons close to the tense border with Azerbaijan — a prospect that has already raised alarm in the ex-Soviet Caspian Sea nation.
No further details were available on the military exercises.
Earlier, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he was stunned by the planned drill in an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
“Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It’s their sovereign right. But why now, and why on our border?” he said, noting it was the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that Iran was intending to stage such a show of force so close to its border.
Iran has been wary of Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel, a major supplier of arms to Baku.
Azerbaijan and Israel have strengthened their military alliance in recent months, with Israeli-supplied high-tech drones helping to tilt the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Baku’s favour last year.
Meanwhile, Tehran invoked its “sovereignty” to dismiss Azerbaijan’s concerns over Iranian military exercises near their shared border.
“The drills carried out by our country in the north-west border areas … are a question of sovereignty,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
Tehran “will take all measures it judges necessary for its national security”, Mr Khatibzadeh said.
“Iran will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime near our borders,” he said.
Iran and Azerbaijan share a border of around 700 kilometres (430 miles) and enjoy good relations.
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