Azerbaijani officials reported last week the arrests of 22 suspects charged with being Iranian agents, amid assertions of connections to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The National Security Ministry’s short announcement gave no indication of when the arrests occurred and, therefore, was ambiguous as to whether the referred to arrests had just taken place, or if the statement was affirmation of February arrests. The Azerbaijani news website Contact, not state affiliated and backed by the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, claimed they happened from late January until February 20. It was in February that Azerbaijani TV carried the story that a conspiracy of violence targeting the Israeli embassy and a Jewish center had been thwarted. Contact also disclosed that counts of treason and unlawful possession of firearms were brought against the arrestees. The National Security Ministry declared that weapons, explosives, and spying equipment were uncovered during the course of the arrests. Supposedly recruitment of the arrestees was as early as thirteen years ago, and they were tutored in weaponry and espionage methods at Iranian military sites. They purportedly were directed by the Revolutionary Guards to engage in terrorism aimed at the United States, Israel, and additional Western embassies.

Iran has accused Azerbaijanis of aiding Israeli assassination missions carried out within its borders. According to news accounts, current conflicts in the region hint at the operations, of Iranian agents and Israel’s spies belonging to its Mossad secret service, in the southern Caucasus, encompassing Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The oil and gas rich Azerbaijan, a major Western supplier ranked one of the most important areas worldwide in oil exploration and development, thus occupies a highly strategic position.

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