Mourners carry the coffin of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan during his funeral in Tehran on January 13. Roshan is the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist to be assassinated in two years. Iran accuses Azerbaijan of colluding with Israel in the killings.
February 17, 2012When police in Tbilisi discovered and defused a bomb on the car of an employee of the Israeli Embassy on February 13, it marked the second time in less than a month that the Jewish state’s diplomats had become the target of an attack in the South Caucasus.
The other incident came in late January when Azerbaijani security officials said they had foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate the Israeli ambassador, a local rabbi, and other prominent Jews in that country. Police arrested two Azerbaijani nationals in connection with that plot.
In both cases, Iran has been named as the suspected mastermind. Israel publicly accused Tehran of being behind the aborted Tbilisi attack. And officials in Baku said the two Azerbaijani suspects arrested in January had collaborated on the alleged assassination plot with an Iranian citizen connected to that country’s security services.
Iran has denied involvement in either incident. But analysts say the two cases illustrate how Georgia and Azerbaijan — due to their proximity to Iran and their close relations with Israel and the United States — risk being drawn deeper into the quickly escalating conflict between Tehran on one side and Israel and the West on the other.
“We think of Iran primarily through the lens of the Persian Gulf. But this is a reminder that it also functions as a Caspian and Caucasian power,” says Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College.
“Everyone is focused on Iran’s ability to shut down the Strait of Hormuz,” he continued. “Well, it can cause problems in the Caucasus, as well, if it so chooses.”
The foiled bomb plots in Georgia and Azerbaijan — as well as recent attacks in India and Thailand — came amid escalating tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear program, with talk of potential military strikes by the United States or Israel becoming increasingly frequent.
The talk of armed conflict has sparked fears of reprisal attacks in the Caucasus region.