Staunton, Oct. 12 – Military exercises in Iran and Azerbaijan have called attention to increasing tensions between the two (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/10/dueling-military-exercises-in-south.html), but Iran may now be making a move in Syunik (Zengezur) that will have a far greater impact on the region than these maneuvers.
Not surprisingly, Iran views all the developments in the Southern Caucasus as potential threats to itself, viewing even the Azerbaijani victory over Armenia as being less about the recovery of Azerbaijani territory than an effort to block Iranian access to the north and expand Turkish and Israeli capabilities (casp-geo.ru/bespretsedentnaya-napryazhennost-mezhdu-iranom-i-azerbajdzhanom-baku-prodolzhaet-igrat-s-hvostom-iranskogo-lva/).
To counter that possibility, Iran is not only flexing its military muscles but actively working to promote alternative transit routes northward, first and foremost via the Caspian Sea and then via the Syunik (Zengezur) corridor of Armenia. Both will allow Tehran to bypass Azerbaijan, but the second has a more immediate impact on the region.
Since its military victory over Armenia last year, Baku has seen the opening of a corridor between Azerbaijan proper and the non-contiguous autonomous republic of Nakhichevan as a key prize in that war. Armenia has opposed it as has Iran which views it as a pan-Turkic threat to itself (https://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/10/iran-remains-opposed-to-azerbaijani.html and https://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/08/corridor-competition-between-armenia.html).
Azerbaijan has the funds to build such a corridor, but Armenia does not have the money to pay for the development of north-south routes between Yerevan and Iran. But Iran does. It not only has pledged to do so but, according to one source, it is already building such a route through the Syunik (Zengezur) region (casp-geo.ru/bespretsedentnaya-napryazhennost-mezhdu-iranom-i-azerbajdzhanom-baku-prodolzhaet-igrat-s-hvostom-iranskogo-lva/).
Now, this source is reporting, Iran will complete work on the Armenian-Iranian transit link within a month, even though Yerevan and Tehran continue to oppose the construction of an Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan corridor and Moscow is dragging its feet at a minimum. And as of now, there is no agreement on timetables for the construction of the two corridors.
Armenia and Iran see the development of this north-south corridor as natural. They share a common border, and the reopening of a transport route from Iran via Armenian territory (Syunik) is thus entirely justified given the problems of going through Azerbaijani territory. But such a corridor crosses the route of the east-west corridor that Azerbaijan and Turkey want.
In the absence of any accord on routes, this is a far more likely recipe for additional conflicts in the region, conflicts in which Iran will be a direct participant, than its military maneuvers south of the Arax River (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/06/a-recipe-for-more-conflict-yerevan.html).