The government of Azerbaijan arrested 22 people suspected of working as spies for Iran and plotting attacks against several western targets including the United States and Israeli embassies, according to reports.
The Azeri National Security Ministry claimed the suspects were working with Iran's Revolutionary Guards and collecting and passing information that could harm Azerbaijan’s security,” Agence France-Presse said.
The arrests come one day after Azeri defense minister Safar Abiyev visited Iran in an effort to ease tensions between the two neighbors. Iran is said to be upset that Azerbaijan entered into a $1.6 billion arms deal with Israel.
We will not allow Azerbaijan's soil to be used against Iran under any conditions, Abiyev said during his trip to Iran, according to state media. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly said “Tehran-Baku ties will never be harmed.”
Tension between the capital cities of Baku and Tehran, nonetheless, have continued to escalate, and Iranian officials have even accused the Azeri government of allowing Israeli Mossad agents to gather information on the Islamic Republic.
The arrests reported Wednesday marks the second time this year Azeri officials have claimed to foil a plot involving Iran; the first time was in February. Some 12,000 Jews live in Azerbaijan, one of the few Muslim countries with strong ties to Israel. The oil-rich former Soviet republic has had official ties with the Jewish state since 1992, soon after Azerbaijan established itself as an independent nation.