Iran’s defense minister on Friday warned Tehran’s “enemies” against making any uncalculated moves amid tensions with neighboring Azerbaijan, saying the Islamic Republic would give a “crushing” response to any such actions.
“Iran’s enemies will certainly receive a crushing response should they take any irrational and ignorant action, and they will incur a heavy cost,” Brig. Gen. Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani said in a tweet shared by Iran’s state broadcaster.
The Iranian army’s ground forces started military exercises near the country’s border with Azerbaijan on Friday despite criticism from Baku over the drills.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev earlier this week criticized Iran for holding military drills near his country’s borders.
“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.
In response, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday the drills near the border with Azerbaijan were a “question of sovereignty” and added 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 is wary of Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel, a major supplier of arms to Baku. Tehran is also wary over nationalists in Turkey and Azerbaijan fanning separatist tendencies among its sizeable ethnic Azeri population.
Iran’s Azeris, the majority of whom live in its northwestern regions, took to the streets in several cities last year in support of Azerbaijan during the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.