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.
The exercise will be held “with the aim of improving combat readiness” in northwest Iran, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Brig. Gen. Kioumars Heydari, commander of the army’s ground forces, as saying.
The drill is dubbed “Conquerors of Khaybar” in reference to the battle of Khaybar, fought in 628 CE between Muslims and Jews. Iran has been wary of Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel, a major supplier of arms to Baku.
The announcement comes after Azeri President Ilham Aliyev earlier this week criticised Iran for holding military drills near his country’s borders.
‘Why now? Why on our border?’
“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?” Aliyev said in an interview published Monday with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.
“Why weren’t the drills held when the Armenians were in the Jabrayil, Fizuli and Zangilan regions? Why is this being done after we liberated these lands, after 30 years of occupation?” he added.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday the drills near the border with Azerbaijan were a “question of sovereignty,” adding that Tehran “will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime” near its borders – a reference to Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel.
Iran and Azerbaijan share a border of around 700 kilometers (430 miles).
Iran also has a large ethnic Azeri population, the majority of whom live in its northwestern regions. They make up Iran’s largest minority group.