Metsamor plant’s control room. Photolur image via RFERL.

“The Armenian side should not forget that Azerbaijan’s most modern missile systems allow hitting the Metsamor nuclear power plant with high accuracy, which could lead to a major disaster to Armenia,” Azerbaijani defense ministry’s spokesman Vagif Dargahly said on July 16, Azerbaijani media reported. The threat came two days after an Azerbaijani general and several other officers were killed in fighting on Armenian-Azerbaijani border and Azerbaijan launched missile attacks on military targets in Armenia’s northeastern Tavush province.

The “most modern missile systems” reference was likely to the LORA missile system that Azerbaijan first acquired from Israel in June 2018. At the time, Azerbaijani defense ministry threatened “destruction of facilities in Armenia to make life extinct for centuries” (sic!); the cryptic statetement presumably referred to potential radiation leak that striking a nuclear facility could cause. In June 2020, Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) conducted a test of the LORA missile reportedly hitting a target 400 kilometres away. The Metsamor nuclear power plant is located less than 150 kilometres from Azerbaijani border.

Additionally, in 2016 an Azerbaijani defense ministry official Gahraman Mansiyev published an article that studied the impact of radiation release from Metsamor should it be “destroyed.”

The latest threats come on the back of similarly outrageous threats in the past. Thus, in 1993 Azerbaijan’s then interior minister Iskender Hamidov threatened nuclear attacks against Yerevan and Stepanakert. In 2004, then defense ministry spokesman Ramiz Melikov called Armenians a “nuisance and has no right to live in this region.” and threatened takeover of Armenia by Azerbaijan “in the next 25-30 years.”

While those earlier threats were largely ignored, this time around, Armenian officials blasted the comment as threatening “nuclear terrorism,” and Armenia’s diplomats liaised with international counterparts, including at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

UPDATE: The threat received some international media coverage, including from RFERL.

UPDATE2: On July 29, Armenia’s foreign minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan told Jerusalem Post that “Israel needs to halt all weapons sales to Azerbaijan,” though weapons deliveries are believed to have continued since.