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Sunday, February 12, 2012

'Ground zero for intelligence work'

There's what purports to be an interview with a Mossad agent in Sunday's Times of London. Unfortunately, the Times is so deeply behind a paywall these days that you can't find the article in the Times - nor in the Australian, which reprints many Times articles. I found out about the interview here, and found the full text here.
A few hours south of Baku is the border with Iran, which Shimon calls “the grey zone” for intelligence operatives. “There is a great deal of information there from people who regularly and freely travel across the borders. It is unregulated — almost. Except for the Iranians who are watching us watch them,” he said.

Dr Orujlu said that thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guard members were operating in Azerbaijan. He estimated that there were fewer agents from Israel’s Mossad agency, but that they operated in a “more effective” way. “The Iranians act in the open, they want everyone to know that they are here. The Israelis are more subtle, like the Americans. But in the end everyone knows they are here too.”

In his previous work in counter-intelligence, Dr Orujlu tried to keep tabs on who was in the country and what they were working on. “But there are so many of them and we are a small country. They play above us,” he said.

Zazdusht Aleizada, who met The Times in the newspaper offices he runs, said the spy networks were an “open secret” in Baku. “We all know that they are here. The only secret is how much money they paid the Azerbaijani Government in bribes.”


“There is a natural relationship between Azerbaijan and Iran. Azerbaijan is a gateway to Iran,” said Kamil Salimov, a law professor at Baku University with former ties to the Government. About 16 per cent of Iranians are native Azeris, many of whom live in the northern part of Iran and enjoy visa-free travel between the two countries.

But tensions between the two countries have recently been on the rise, with the state-run Azerbaijani news service increasingly reporting the mistreatment of Azeris in Iran.

“There is anger over perceived Iranian arrogance, and the fact that Iran continues to support and grow ties with Armenia, with which Azerbaijan has a territorial dispute,” said Mehman Aliyev, director of the independent news agency Turan.

Israel has capitalised on such discontent and an open market in Azerbaijan, forging business and military links over the past two decades. Israel buys 30 per cent of its oil from Azerbaijan, and recently awarded a lucrative gas-drilling contract off the coast of southern Israel to an Azerbaijani company. Israel has also recently set up a factory outside Baku, which makes approximately one third of the parts for its drones. The unmanned aerial vehicles, which are used to gather intelligence, are also being sold to Azerbaijan amid speculation that a base is being constructed for a permanent mission over Iran.

“The Azerbaijani military force is already completed in sync with the Israeli and American systems,” Dr Orujlu said. “Largely because the Americans have been using Azerbaijan for medevacs from Afghanistan for years.” Shimon confirmed that the Israeli and Azerbaijani militaries were “well acquainted” with one another.

But for residents of Azerbaijan who maintain ties to Iran, the newfound closeness with Israel is a subject of distress.

Read the whole thing. I have to say that given what a small country we are, I am constantly impressed with how we supposedly have spy networks around the world.

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