Off-the-record conversations, stories attributed to agenda-driven anonymous sources and leaks are nothing new. But something exceptionally outrageous happened last week when an article by Mark Perry was published in Foreign Policy, disclosing an alleged secret deal between Israel and Azerbaijan to enable potential airstrikes on Iran.
“The Israelis have bought an airfield and that airfield is called Azerbaijan,” Perry recounts a “senior administration official” as telling him in early February. A total of “four senior diplomats and military officials” confirmed the story to Perry.
One of the major problems facing Israel is that its aircraft would have to fly a long distance to Iran and back. That requires complicated and risky mid-air refueling. If the aircraft can land in Azerbaijan after striking their targets, then this makes an aerial campaign much more feasible.
One source for his story, a U.S. intelligence officer, said, “…we’re watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it.”
The reason they aren’t happy about it is because the administration is opposed to an Israeli strike on Iran. These officials knew Perry was talking to them for a reason: To break the story. It’s one thing to disagree with a U.S. ally. It’s another thing to endanger the ally as a form of coercion. And that’s exactly what happened.
If the story is true, the officials almost certainly leaked classified information. This sort of deal is done with the utmost secrecy. In fact, the story mentions a cable published by Wikileaks that quotes the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, as explaining his government’s close ties to Israel as being “nine-tenths of it is below the surface.” Aliyev publicly promised not to allow his country’s territory to be used in an attack on Iran. If there was any chance that Azerbaijan would permit Israeli aircraft to land, these officials jeopardized it.
There are some experts who doubt the story entirely. Former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams calls it “absurd.” He suggests that about 100 Israeli aircraft would have to land and it would just be too risky for Azerbaijan, which could easily be targeted by Iran’s ballistic missiles and terrorist proxies.
The accuracy of the report almost doesn’t matter. Whatever the case may be, these officials put Israel and Azerbaijan in danger.
If the story is true, then it is very possible that Azerbaijan has backed out of the deal and now the lives of Israeli pilots will be even more at risk if the order is given to strike. Should the story’s publication result in Israel scrapping the military option, these officials could even be responsible for the arrival of a nuclear-armed Iran. Even if the story is false, Iran may believe it is true and decide to sponsor attacks on Azerbaijan in retaliation. After all, sponsoring terrorism inside Azerbaijan isn’t something new to Iran.
Israeli President Shimon Peres in Azerbaijan (right, center)
In 2008, two members of Hezbollah were arrested in Azerbaijan as they were preparing to destroy the Israeli embassy with three or four car bombs. In January, the Azeris detained three people tied to Iran that were going to kill two Jewish schoolteachers. In February, an Iranian terror cell was captured as it planned on attacking a foreign target. Last month, 22 were arrested for their part in a massive Iranian wave of terror that would attack the American and Israeli embassies, the offices of British Petroleum, an American-style fast food restaurant and a Jewish organization.
There have been other leaks damaging to Israel. The results of a classified war game that showed hundreds of Americans dying in the Middle East because of a strike on Iran were leaked to the New York Times. In another report whose accuracy I doubt, anonymous officials claimed that Israel is using members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, an Iranian group considered by the State Department to be a Foreign Terrorist Organization, to kill Iranian nuclear scientists.
The administration denies that it leaked the story about Israel’s supposed access to air bases in Azerbaijan. White House sources say they would “gladly prosecute” whoever was responsible. So, why doesn’t the administration begin an investigation?
Everyone that supports Israel and everyone that fears this type of misconduct by our government officials must demand an investigation. We need to know who is leaking this sensitive information or, if the story is false, spreading this harmful disinformation to the press. Diplomacy should not be carried out by sabotaging allies in the media, especially by officials acting on their own accord.
This needs to be treated as seriously as it is. A formal investigation leading to the firing, if not prosecution, of these officials must begin.
Ryan Mauro is a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel.