Azerbaijan Should “Keep Its Head Down”, Top U.S.analyst on Iran Tension

Despite a long period of increasing tension between the U.S. administration and Iran, the latest attack against a key figure in Iran security establishment came as a surprise for many analysts in the U.S. capital, in part because it was seen as likely to ignite significant Iranian response.

On Friday, the State Department ordered all Americans to leave Iraq. U.S. embassies and military bases were instantly vulnerable as Tehran has already promised that it will exact “savage” retribution for the murder of a senior official of its government by the U.S.

“We took this action to stop the war, not to start the war,” U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told reporters.

The White House insists that it had to take a decisive and defensive action against Qassem Suleimani and the strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attacks.

“Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” President Trump said in his speech on Friday.

Speaking to TURAN’s U.S. correspondent Paul Stronski, former White House director and State Department analyst on Caucasus and Central Asia, disputed the official explanation, suggesting that Trump had “limited credibility given his history of false statements.”

“U.S. contractor death and attack on Baghdad embassy certainly gave [President Trump] reason to act now, but there have been many other instances where a firm U.S. response could have happened and Trump balked.”

For Stronski, the U.S. President “just opened door to potential conflict in Middle East at a time he’s been dis-engaging from region.”

What could Suleimani’s killing mean for Azerbaijan?  Stronski, currently a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, told TURAN that he doesn’t expect big destabilizing event impacting Caucasus. However, he addeed, Iranians retaliation “certainly could be aimed at U.S. interests in Caucasus.”

“So, that is troubling for Azerbaijan and it’s neighbors. It also has potential economic risks for region.”

Azerbaijan, Stronski suggested, should “keep its head down” at this time. “Iran has a history of proxy wars and attacking US interests/citizens in third countries. If I were Azerbaijan, I’d want to keep all avenues Tehran and Washington open to make sure it isn’t the site for a proxy fight,” he said.

“I think other places (with higher profile like Gulf, Lebanon or less expected) more at risk than Azerbaijan for that. Azeri minority in Iran makes it dicey to risk. But Azerbaijan is right next door, so you never know,” he added.

Alex Raufoglu

Washington D.C.