From my weekly globalpost column:
The standoff between Iran, Israel and the United States over Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions has drawn in another player: Azerbaijan.
According to intelligence officials, Iran’s security services have concluded that Azerbaijan, its Muslim neighbor to the north, has been enlisted by Israel in a campaign of cyber attacks, assassinations and detailed military planning aimed at destabilizing and ultimately destroying Tehran’s nuclear research program.
That Iranian perspective, described by a range of current and former US intelligence officials who asked that their names remain confidential, has led to a crackdown on Iran’s sizeable ethnic Azeri minority and the launch of an Iranian counter espionage offensive to destabilize the government of President Ilham Aliev. Ethnic Azeris are Iran’s largest minority group, comprising about 16 percent of the population, mostly clustered along the northern border and in Tehran.
Over the past several years, as tensions between Israel and Iran have heightened and US and European talks on Iran’s nuclear program have stalled, Iran has been rocked by a series of assassinations of senior Iranian nuclear scientists and at least one instance where a complex and damaging computer virus, called Stuxnet, was inserted manually into the servers of its nuclear program.
Iranian officials have publicly blamed these attacks on the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. But US officials say Iran has recently concluded that the assassinations and other acts of sabotage has been orchestrated with the help of Azerbaijan.