Trying very hard to get our summer issue caught up despite being sidelined by my hip replacement, I have so far neglected to comment on one of the more bizarre stories that ran around the region starting over the weekend: that Israel (and/or the US) is preparing to strike Iran from air bases in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and that Israeli aircraft in the Caucasus managed to get there by deceiving Turkey.
At first glance, it seems like a wild and crazy idea. At second glance, it seems even crazier. Despite some superficial arguments in favor (Israeli aircraft would have a shorter strike range; Iran's air defense system is presumably not as concentrated on the Caucasus front as in the Gulf), neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan is in a position to throw themselves into a confrontation with Iran. (Of course, two summers ago, Georgia provoked a fight with Russia and got invaded, so perhaps self-interest only goes so far as an argument.) Azerbaijanis and Iranian Azeris are one people speaking a common language. The ex-Soviet air bases in the Transcaucasus would need some work to service Israeli aircraft. So what is the source of this strange story?
The story seems to originate with an American radio/web commentator of sensational bent named Gordon Duff, who was talking about this a week or so before it broke in the region. The story in its present form broke in the region over the weekend with the Bahrain Arabic daily Akhbar al-Khaleej, citing "Western political and military sources" (article is in Arabic). A short version appeared in the newspaper's English-language partner Gulf Daily News, thus gaining more traction outside the Arab world. It has been commented upon by Stratfor, with appropriate skepticism, though the full article is available only to subscribers.
I'm betting this is disinformation, but then the question becomes: whose? Just a bit over a week ago we had the kerfuffle over the Harry S Truman strike group transiting the Suez Canal, and we are indeed in a moment when the Truman and Eisenhower strike groups are both on station in the Gulf before the Eisenhower comes home. The US and Israel may both have motives for keeping Iran off balance (and Iran did back off its "Gaza flotilla" effort citing the risk of Israeli attack). It could also be an attempt to foreclose any cooperation, even logistical support, that the Transcaucasus countries might provide Israel or the US by making allegations now. It could also just be conspiracy theorizing at its most fervid, or of course, some elements might even be true. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not plotting against you. Other countries (including Russia) might have some reason to spread a story like this, though: undermine Georgia and Azerbaijan, hurt their relations with Turkey and Iran, perhaps?
But do I think Israel, with or without the US, is about to launch a strike against Iran from the Caucasus? No, I don't.
Of course, they wouldn't tell me if they were.