Iran’s Army Ground Forces (FTE) began military maneuvers Friday morning in northwestern areas bordering Azerbaijan and Armenia, state television reported.
“The exercise, codenamed Khaybar Conquerors, began with the participation of various armored units, artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic warfare units and combat engineering vehicles, supported by helicopters,” the Iranian military’s official website said.
Speaking at the site of the exercise, Brigadier General Kioumars Heydari, commander-in-chief of Iran’s FTE, said that during the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region “a significant number” of Islamic State (IS) terrorists “were called” to the area.
Heydari stressed that the Islamic Republic of Iran has never initiated any aggression, and indicated that the country has never obtained guarantees that IS terrorists have left the area.
“They have to leave this area, and we need to make a show of force,” the Iranian commander added.
In recent days, Iranian officials have warned of tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan over the road transport of items between Iran and Armenia, after Azerbaijani authorities arrested two Iranian truck drivers in mid-September in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on charges of illegal border crossing.
“The arrest of Iranian drivers should not cause tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan, but it must be said that some countries are seeking to alter Iran’s relations with other countries,” Mahmoud Abbaszadeh, spokesman for the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Iran’s parliament, said in an interview with the Etemad newspaper on Thursday.
Abbaszadeh specifically commented that “there will not be the slightest threat to Azerbaijan’s borders from Iran.”
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Monday that Azerbaijan has repeatedly expressed to Iran its dissatisfaction over the illegal passage of Iranian trucks, but that this trend has continued.
In an interview with Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency, Aliyev described Iran’s plans to hold military exercises near the border at this time as “very surprising.”
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict “is over,” Azerbaijan’s president said at another point in the interview.
On Wednesday, a senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) said “the governments of neighboring countries know better than anyone” the reason for Iran’s maneuvers.
Iranian Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the IRGC’s ground forces, added that “preventing changes at the borders of neighboring countries” is part of Iran’s main strategies.
“We consider any geopolitical change in the region to be detrimental to our internal security and have always stated that it is a red line,” Pakpour said on the sidelines of an event in Iran’s Kurdistan province, as quoted by Sepah News, the IRGC’s official media outlet.
The IRGC general also noted that different countries have conducted around 37 exercises in the region in recent months, seven of them in the last month, and that Iran has not reacted to any of them.
In a meeting held Thursday with the newly appointed Azerbaijani ambassador to Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian indicated that Iran “will not tolerate” the Israeli presence and activities against Iran’s national security near its borders, and that it will “take all necessary measures in this regard,” the official IRNA news agency reported.