Last month, it became apparent that the burgeoning Israel-Azerbaijan relationship, predicated on an important oil pipeline (Israel is Azerbaijan’s second largest customer, getting one-third of its oil from the Caucasian nation) and shared enmity toward Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, Iran, was for real when the two countries inked a $1.6 billion defense agreement.

Well, it just got really real.

An explosive, fascinating, must-read article in Foreign Policy reports that Azerbaijan has tacitly agreed to let Israel use its territory, in various ways, to stage an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. This morning, Azerbaijan’s defense ministry denied everything. The article cites several high-ranking officials, but all in the United States, so it’s possible this was a leak-job designed to discourage an Israeli attack—but even that would only make sense if there were also some degree of truth to what it reports.

The main way Israel could use Azerbaijan—which has at least one old Soviet airfield in the hinterlands that would be perfect for such an operation—is to land planes there after striking Iran, decreasing in-flight travel by 800 miles and thereby possibly, and crucially, obviating the need for risky, complex in-flight refueling. Israel might also base helicopter search-and-rescue teams there, and also drones.

What started as a robust business relationship in the early 1990s, with Israeli companies flooding the Azeri market with consumer goods, has evolved into a military partnership and alliance.

“The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior U.S. official said, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”

In other bombing-Iran news, researchers for the U.S. Congress found that Iran could rebuild its centrifuge facilities within six months of an Israeli bombing.

And in a rather odd piece that has no sourcing but has the feel of something that is more than just pure, blind analysis, Haaretz’ Amir Oren concludes that the recent leak of a U.S. war game that showed an Israeli strike would place U.S. personnel at risk combined with the Pentagon’s request for further funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program mean that a short bit of boilerplate from Defense Minister Barak was in fact “an announcement that this war was being postponed until at least the spring of 2013.” We shall see.

Israel’s Secret Staging Ground [FP]
Israel’s Plan to Attack Iran Put on Hold Til Next Year at the Earliest [Haaretz]
Earlier; No, Not that Baijan, Azerbaijan!