Iran Boosts Border Defense Against Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, Israel and ISIS

Iran is reinforcing its northwestern border in order to safeguard the Islamic Republic from the spillover of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It also seeks to protect itself from other designated threats including Israel and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

In the wake of repeated cross-border shelling from ethnic Armenian forces and airspace violations by Azerbaijani drones, Iranian Army commander Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi announced Tuesday that "air defense units in the northwestern region have been strengthened and more will be added if needed.

"The peace of the people is of special importance to us," Mousavi, who also serves as commanding officer of the Khatam Al-Anbia Air Defense Base, said, echoing other Iranian officials who have vowed to protect the people of the northwestern region.

He said his forces were eager to enforce the international border that lies between them and the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory largely controlled by ethnic Armenians but recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

"Respecting the territorial integrity of countries and protecting the official international borders are among our definite principles, and we would not tolerate any change in them," Mousavi said, adding that Iran "has been and is opposed" to such violations.

In addition to Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have both previously been warned, Mousavi warned against enemy forces potentially trying to exploit the unrest to infiltrate Iran.

"Takfiri terrorists, ISIS and the Zionists are despised elements all over the world, and their presence everywhere causes hatred and insecurity," Mousavi said, referring to Sunni Islamist groups that accuse Shiite Muslims of apostasy as well as proponents of Israel as a Jewish state.

He said that such groups would be targeted without regard for others stationed in their vicinity.

"As our forces have proven time and time again, the presence of these elements near their borders will be dealt with severely and indiscriminately," Mousavi added.

iran, air, defense, guardians, sky, border
Iranian medium-range Tabas surface-to-air missile system is fired during the Guardians of Velayat Sky-99 exercise, October 21. Iran has showcased its air defenses to deter external threats and exhibit systems now available to sell after the expiration of a U.N. arms embargo. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Fragile back-to-back ceasefires brokered first by Russia and then the United States this month have given way to renewed fighting by Armenia and Azerbaijan. Much of the recent fighting has concentrated along the border with Iran, where ethnic Armenian forces have accused Azerbaijani personnel of taking shelter, and over which Azerbaijani drones made by top Iranian foe Israel have crashed.

To halt the violence, Iran has offered to mediate the conflict alongside Armenia ally Russia and close Azerbaijan supporter Turkey, as the three powers already do in Syria.

Both Yerevan and Baku's envoys to Washington welcomed Tehran's offer in separate comments to Newsweek last week, while calling on the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group co-chairs France, Russia and the U.S. to do more.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh announced Tuesday that Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi would visit Baku, Moscow, Yerevan and Ankara "in order to advance Iran's initiative to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and ongoing conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia."

Like every other United Nations member state, Iran backs Azerbaijan's claims to Nagorno-Karabakh, but has called for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Iranian officials have also denied repeated Azerbaijani accusations that it facilitated Russian arms transfers to Armenia, while Azerbaijani officials have rejected Iranian, Russian and international media reports of Turkey-backed Syrian rebels being used in the conflict.

As Tehran and Moscow conduct efforts to defeat such insurgents in Syria, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned he would not allow them to threaten his own country's borders. Their presence, he warned, could help spark a "regional war" among neighboring nations.

Revolutionary Guard Ground Forces commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour visited the Armenia-Azerbaijan border region over the weekend and announced the deployment of the elite troops there to send two messages.

"The first message to our people, so that they may feel that we are vigorously monitoring the situation in the region and putting the necessary measures in line with it," Pakpour said. "The second message is to the countries of the region that they respect their border integrity and do not accept a change in the geopolitics of the borders. This subject is the red line of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Potential internal threats persist as well. Separatist groups such as the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement have rallied Iran's massive ethnic Azeri community, likely the largest in the world, in support of fellow Azerbaijanis across the border.

Iran also faces separatist sentiments from Arab and Kurdish communities near the borders with Iraq and Turkey, as well as Baloch nationalists and drug smugglers near the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. ISIS has sought to exploit a low-intensity Sunni Muslim insurgency as well.

Iranian officials have frequently accused top foes Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. of being behind plots to destabilize the Islamic Republic.

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A map shows the location of the Nagorno-Karabakh, where the self-proclaimed separatist Artsakh Republic is led by ethnic Armenians on land internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Wikimedia

The Israeli military has conducted a years-long campaign of strikes in Syria—and reportedly Iraq as well—against suspected Iranian and Iran-backed forces. While Iran has sought to build ties with Sunni Muslim Arab monarchies across the Persian Gulf, at least two, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have instead normalized ties with Israel.

Washington has mostly lashed out against Tehran through increasingly tight sanctions since the U.S. exit from a 2015 nuclear deal, but the White House also oversaw the killing in January of Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, a move that sent U.S.-Iran relations into a tailspin.

Last week, Iran held a series of air defense war games comprising more than half the country, in which they showcased domestically produced weapons systems. It was a demonstration of Tehran's ability to defend itself and an exhibition of equipment now available for sale, due to the recent expiration of a decade-long U.N. arms embargo, which the U.S. vehemently opposed.

As the U.S. election rapidly approaches, President Donald Trump's administration has doubled down on its maximum pressure campaign, announcing a new round of sanctions against an oil and gas sector already subject to restrictions, this time accusing the energy industries of ties to terrorism.

"The U.S.' hostility towards the Iranian people has no limit," Iranian mission to the United Nations spokesperson Alireza Miryousefi told Newsweek late Monday. "The U.S. is sanctioning entities that have already been sanctioned under other phony charges."

He referred to earlier remarks by White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien, who told reporters on Sunday that the Trump administration had rolled out so many sanctions on Iran and Russia "that there's very little left for us to do."

"The U.S.' addiction to sanctions has not paid off as the U.S. national security adviser admitted," Miryousefi said. "The U.S. has out-sanctioned itself."