Iran under the yoke of the Ayatollahs has been, for a long time, a pronounced enemy of Israel, and this enmity is based on a deep-rooted hatred of Jews as an ethnic group. Antisemitic tendencies were never hidden in speeches or remarks that Iranian leaders have made for decades. Beginning in the 1990s, the Iranian regime started using Holocaust denial as a tool to attack Jews and in particular – Israel. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called the Holocaust “a myth” and “a fabricated story” numerous times. Iran’s president from 2005 to 2013, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even endorsed a Holocaust caricature contest and exhibition alongside other efforts to discredit and abuse the memory of the Holocaust.
But now these antisemitic tendencies are being used not just against Israel, but against its major ally in Caucasus – Azerbaijan. This rhetoric is used by the Islamic regime to advance its anti-Azeri agenda, as the relations between Baku and Tehran deteriorated to a level not far from open military hostilities.
Iranian regime makes a distinct use of two antisemitic tropes: “sinister wealthy Jewish collective seeking to control the wealth of the others”, and the “Global conspiracy element”, with a stress on starting wars between brotherly states or nations.
Over 70% of Azeri population is Shia, most of the rest are Sunni Muslims. Iranian messages directed at them picture local government as “Zionist patsy”. They are implying that the whole country is controlled by Jews and President’s last name not Aliyev but “Aleph” – for he is a Jew himself, or a Jewish minion. According to the Iranian propaganda, the purpose of the “Jewish control over Azerbaijan” is dual. The first one is establishing a “beachhead” for the Mossad’s activity, directed at inciting riots in Iran and thus bringing to the collapse of Islamic country or to the war between two Muslim states. The second one – taking over Azeri vast energy resources.
Tehran’s propagandists use these tropes hoping to incite the religious Azeri population not just to harm Israel’s interests (Azerbaijan supplies 40% of its energy needs) but also to counter mass protests in Iran. One of the major epicenters of the dissent is in Iran’s Northern provinces, populated by ethnic Azeri people (over 20 million). They are also Shia Muslims and a large percentage of them wishes to join their Azeri brothers in the north. Depicting Azerbaijan as a country, controlled by the Jews, seems to Tehran as a good tool to disincline Iranian Azeris for any desire to do a such thing.
Here is several examples of anti-Azeri – antisemitic statements and remarks that have been made by Iranian officials in the last weeks. Some of them were collected by an analytical subscription only Telegram-channel – AZfront, which monitors the situation in the Caucasus, some were collected by an author on various Russian, Iranian, Armenian and Turkish websites.
Mid-October this year President Aliyev criticized the warmongering of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) forces on the border with Azerbaijan and military support given to Armenia. Raisi countered that he is ready to interfere militarily if Azerbaijan were to try to “cut off the land bridge between Iran and Armenia” and accused Azerbaijan of being a “Zionist puppet”.
Only a few days after that Iranian state TV decided to join the party and started airing a made-to-impress video presentation of IRGC military exercises at the Azeri border. The song in this video starts with a threat to Israel. Literally the first word of the song in the video is “Israel”. Subtlety is not their forte. And to hammer the point further, it was declared two days later that the military exercises on the border with Azerbaijan were a “decisive response” to Israeli influence in the Azeri republic and in Central Asia, as well as to the plans of several “conspiracies” against Iran. That was from Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Safaei. Other Iranian official sources announced that the prime objective of the IRGC exercises is to demonstrate to Baku that Tehran won’t stand any “Israeli intelligence service networks” being established in Azerbaijan, near the border with Iran and instigate protests there (the Institute for the Study of War – ISW quotes Iranian official sources.
The Ayatollahs are nothing if not focused, and if they get a good “down with Zionists, Americans and Brits” bit between their teeth, they are going to run with that for a proper long time. Just so happens, soon after previously cited comments, at the end of October, the IRGC’s spy agency (Intelligence Protection Organization) released statements, according to which it has “documents” that implicate Mossad, CIA, MI6 and their “reactionary puppets” in the inciting unrest in Iran, to harm its territorial integrity. “There is reliable evidence that the planning and implementation of most of the protests was done by the Israeli Mossad together with various major terrorist groups”.
Following the same script, in the beginning of November the Director of the Center for Strategic Studies and International Relations in Tehran, Amir Mousavi, claimed that Israel and the US plan to divide Iran, using Azerbaijan, of course.
Almost at the same time, a conference on the “relations between Zionist regime and Azerbaijan” took place in Tehran University. One of the discussed issues – how to stop economic relations between Israel and Azerbaijan.
Nothing goes to waste – soon after a terrorist act in the city of Shiraz at the Shah Cheragh Mausoleum, which claimed the lives of 15 people on October 26th, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the chairman of the Iranian Majlis announced that Israel is responsible for it. “The Zionist regime must know that it will not be able to hide under the mask of Islamic State terrorists. It will undoubtedly be held accountable for the blood shed on Iranian soil,” Ghalibaf stated. Two days after that the regime announced that the head of the alleged terrorist cell which committed the atrocity came from… Baku. So it goes without saying that he was sent by the Mossad.
Almost without saying… because the next day Mashregh News, a “non-governmental” newspaper, close to the Iranian intelligence organizations, published an analytical article, calling “to act more effectively to put Azerbaijan – Israeli proxy, in its place, so the other countries of the region will “stop relying on Zionists”. To reach this goal Iran should cooperate with Russia (mshrgh.ir/1431649).
The reaction to this call came indirectly from Israeli site Intelli Times. It has been reported that the IRGC agents created an Azerbaijani subdivision of the international paramilitary organization – Liwa Fatemiyoun. Azeri recruits were trained in Syria under the supervision of Hezbollah. The report was dedicated to the capture of several subversive pro-Iranian groups by Azerbaijani secret services. One of the iranian operatives was previously involved in the attempt to kill Israeli businessmen in Cyprus in 2021.
Probably to substantiate the threat from such groups, the head of the Husayniyun subversive organization (created by the IRGC from adherents of the Khomeinist ideology who fled to Iran from Azerbaijan) told the ISNA news agency that “Azerbaijan became a province of the Zionist regime… the submission of Aliyev’s government to the will of the Zionists became the reason for the tense relations with Iran”. “Azerbaijan and the Caucasus need a full fledged organization of Islamic resistance, akin to Hezbollah. Qasem Soleimani (commander of the special Quds Force in the IRGC) supported this idea and gave us instructions. The Zionists and Aliyev are scared because we are conducting wide-spread information operations through social media and on internet platforms”. He noted that “for 30 years, the Zionists, the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia worked meticulously in Azerbaijan and today no more than 5% of Azeris support Iran. But in 5 years we will be able to repair the damage”.
After that the level of accusations only began to climb. For example, an analyst from Tehran International Studies & Research Institute – Ehsan Movahedian, well known forerunner of the regime’s agenda on the Caucasus, lashed out on Azerbaijan, claiming it “has turned into a colony of Israel and is no longer independent”. “From the very first moment since the opening of the embassy in Baku, Israel is using the territory of Azerbaijan as a base to launch clandestine operations against Iran. Many important government offices in Baku are run by Jews and representatives associated with Israel, many media managers are Jews and even the son-in-law of the President of Azerbaijan is Jewish. Control over the border between Azerbaijan and Iran as well as new territories that were passed to Baku is in the hands of people who are not even connected to Azerbaijan but to the Israeli embassy”.
One of his claims adds up evidence to Tehran’s attempted inciting Shia uprising in Azerbaijan based on antisemitic slurs: “most people in Azerbaijan do not support the absurd regime in Baku. They know that Aliyev is a dictator. Even Azeris living in Iran oppose Aliyev, because they know that he is nothing but a dictator who kills his opposition. They know that in Iran they would have more freedom of speech than in Azerbaijan”.
As is clear from the examples above, the Iranian regime has infused its anti-Azerbaijani sentiments with antisemitic messages to direct public opinion at a scapegoat, which, allegedly, made a country with “brotherly relations” in the past – Azerbaijan, betray Iran. Not unlike other historical examples, Iran is using the Zionist/Jewish “influence” as a scapegoat, which, as said before, is reminiscent of other powers’ treatment of Jews. Azerbaijan’s authorities and leadership are presented as puppets and the ones pulling the strings are the real opponents of the Ayatollahs – Israel. The IRGC even works on creating an Islamic resistance organization which emulates Hezbollah, a notorious anti-Israeli terrorist organization based in Lebanon.