As relations between Israel and Azerbaijan prosper, Iran is making no effort to disguise its fury over the friendship.

This week, the Iranian Foreign Ministry called in Azerbaijan’s ambassador and demanded answers over a $1.5 billion arms purchase from Israel. Iran, Baku’s southern neighbor, has also repeatedly accused the country of allowing its territory to be used by Israeli intelligence operatives.

“There is no military alliance. But there are naturally shared interests. Azerbaijan is an enlightened, secular, advanced state,” former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh, who was instrumental in forging the first links between Jerusalem and Baku two decades ago, told The Jerusalem Post.

The country sells Israel a third of its oil, and cooperation on technology and trade is well developed, Sneh noted.

He refrained from discussing sensitive defense contracts.

“I saw the potential 19 years ago, and worked to bring relations closer as a Knesset member and a minister, because I saw the similarities and joint interests. I’m pleased at how things have developed,” Sneh added.

Sneh, now chair of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue, spoke this week at a conference on the relations, held at the Netanya Academic College.

Dr. Ganire Pashayeva, Azerbaijani parliament member and foreign affairs committee member, also attended the conference.

Although she did not mention Iran by name, Pashayeva said that “strategic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel will continue” despite opposition from “neighbors in our area.”

Israeli-Azerbaijani ties are important from defense and economic perspectives, she added. Pashayeva also called on the Jewish state to support Baku’s demand that Armenia withdraw its military from the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Lev Spivak, who heads the Israel Azerbaijan International Association, said that relations “are very good between the militaries” of the two countries, adding that the Azerbaijani president’s security guards are trained in Israel.

On the cultural level, Jews had lived in Azerbaijan for five centuries free from persecution. After Azerbaijan broke free from the former Soviet Union, some 70,000 of the country’s 100,000 Jews moved to Israel, but return to visit often, forming a natural bridge between the two populations, he added.

Asked how he thought most Azerbaijanis would respond to Iran’s condemnations, Spivak said, “I think they would be happy. Because many of their friends and former neighbors now live in Israel.”

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