Israel has been granted access to air bases in Azerbaijan on Iran's northern border, Foreign Policy reported Wednesday, quoting senior U.S. diplomats and military intelligence officials.
"The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior U.S. administration official told Foreign Policy's Mark Perry, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."
"We're watching what Iran does closely," said a U.S. intelligence officer involved in assessing the consequences of a potential Israeli strike on Iran. "But we're now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we're not happy about it."
In February, Israel signed a $1.6 billion arms deal with Azerbaijan, committing to sell drones and anti-aircraft missile defense systems to Baku. According to a retired U.S. diplomat, the deal left Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "sputtering in rage," since Israel had previously canceled a contract to develop drones with the Turkish military.
The report said that the Azeri military has four abandoned, Soviet-era airfields that could be available to Israel and four air bases for their own aircraft, quoting the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance 2011.
U.S. officials told Foreign Policy that they believe Israel has been granted access to these air bases through a "series of quiet political and military understandings."
"I doubt that there's actually anything in writing," said a former U.S. diplomat who spent his career in the region. "But I don't think there's any doubt - if Israeli jets want to land in Azerbaijan after an attack, they'd probably be allowed to do so. Israel is deeply embedded in Azerbaijan, and has been for the last two decades."