Iranian President’s Chopper Crashes While Returning from Pro-Israel Azerbaijan

Israel is responsible for almost 70 percent of Azerbaijan's weapons.

by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor

Just hours before his helicopter crashed, Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi made significant remarks during the inauguration ceremony of the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a major joint water project between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan. The event, held in East Azarbaijan Province on Sunday, highlighted the importance of bilateral cooperation between the two nations.

The Presidents of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan attended the opening ceremony of the Qiz-Qalasi Dam in the East Azarbaijan Province on Sunday.

Raeisi emphasized the unbreakable bond between Iran and Azerbaijan, highlighting the dam project as a symbol of hope for both nations and a source of frustration for their adversaries. He reiterated Tehran’s commitment to supporting Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, particularly in the reconstruction of the Karabakh region, leveraging Iran’s engineering expertise.

The president’s comments also touched on the strategic importance of the Aras Corridor, a key infrastructure project aimed at enhancing connectivity between the two countries. Raeisi stressed that progress in Azerbaijan directly benefits Iran, while any instability along their shared borders would be detrimental to both nations.

However, the day took a dramatic turn when one of the helicopters carrying President Raeisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian crashed in the foggy weather of the northern region of East Azarbaijan. The helicopter was traveling between Khodaafarin and Tabriz but went down in the Dizmar forest and mountainous area between Uzi and Pir Dawood villages due to severe weather conditions, including heavy fog and rain.

As search and rescue teams rushed to the crash site, the fate of the helicopter’s occupants remained uncertain. Initial reports suggested a hard landing, but the exact circumstances were still unclear. The incident cast a shadow over the day’s earlier celebrations and highlighted the unpredictable challenges faced by political leaders.

In the broader context of regional politics, Iran and Azerbaijan’s relationship has been complex, influenced by Azerbaijan’s close ties with Israel. A recent Haaretz investigation revealed extensive arms exports from Israel to Azerbaijan, underscoring a strategic alliance that also involves significant oil supplies from Azerbaijan to Israel. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Israel is now responsible for almost 70 percent of Azerbaijan’s weapons. Azerbaijan is also a beneficiary of lobbying efforts by pro-Israeli groups in Washington. This partnership has raised tensions with Iran, particularly given Azerbaijan’s use of Israeli weapons in conflicts with Armenia.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently called for Muslim nations to sever ties with Israel, aiming to isolate it amid the ongoing Gaza conflict. Despite these calls, practical outcomes seem limited, as Azerbaijan remains a crucial oil supplier to Israel and a key recipient of Israeli military technology.

The geopolitical dynamics are further complicated by Azerbaijan’s irredentist rhetoric regarding north-western Iranian territories. Tehran views such claims, along with Azerbaijan’s plans for the Zangezur corridor through Armenian territory, as threats to its regional influence. Nonetheless, pragmatic considerations have led Iran to adjust to Azerbaijan’s rising power, especially as Armenia shifts closer to the West.

Despite the tensions, economic cooperation between Iran and Azerbaijan continues, particularly through the North-South trade and transport corridor, which is also of interest to Russia. This pragmatic approach suggests that while Iran resents Azerbaijan’s regional gains, it is unwilling to jeopardize its economic interests or regional stability over the Gaza conflict.

Turkey’s role adds another layer of complexity. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vocally criticized Israel, Turkey remains a close ally of Azerbaijan. This relationship includes facilitating Azerbaijani oil exports to Israel through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, creating a nuanced balance of interests in the region.

Iran’s call for a comprehensive embargo against Israel, echoed by its foreign minister during a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, has not found widespread support. Turkey’s criticism of Israel remains within the bounds of diplomatic rhetoric without translating into concrete economic actions against Israel.

It is, however, premature to ascertain the exact cause behind the helicopter crash, but if a significant incident does occur, many are likely to hastily blame Israel.