There are many aspects of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to the US this week that will interest the Iranians, not least of all his meeting on Sunday with Turkmenistan’s Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov.

The Iranians will obviously be watching carefully to see what emerges from Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Barack Obama on Monday and will listen carefully to what he says about the Iranian nuclear program on Tuesday. But the meeting with Meredov late Sunday afternoon in New York is also important for Tehran because it signals a strengthening of ties between Israel and the country to Iran’s north-northeast, with whom it shares a 1,000-km. border.

From a hotel in Turkmenistan’s capital of Ashgabat, according to a saying in Jerusalem, one can see into Iran. This explains the geostrategic importance of these ties for Israel. Other reasons are that Turkmenistan is a predominantly Muslim country and it is extremely rich in gas and natural resources.

The Netanyahu-Meredov meeting comes just three months after Shemi Tzur took up his position formally as Israel’s ambassador to Turkmenistan.

This was no easy feat, since Israel’s first two candidates – Reuven Daniel and Haim Koren – were rejected by Turkmenistan for allegedly being spies interested not in furthering bilateral relations, but in collecting intelligence information on Iran.

The London-based Caspian Research Institute wrote in June that “Iran has been determined to limit Israeli involvement in the Caspian region.

To the west, Azerbaijan’s warm ties with the Jewish state – including Azerbaijani oil sales to Israel and Israeli weapons for Azerbaijan – have provoked consternation among Iranian conservatives.”

Tehran, according to the institute, has been working to prevent a similar friendship from happening in Turkmenistan.

However, Turkmenistan has charted a stridently neutral geopolitical course for itself and will not have its policies dictated to by others, which is one of the reasons for its being open to ties with Israel.

Because of its rich gas and mineral deposits, the central Asian country of some 5.2 million people is being courted heavily by the West, and according to Western officials, it is interested in increasing foreign representation in Ashgabat to make the country “seem important.”

According to the institute, greater diplomatic cooperation with the Turkmen leadership could be a “prelude to greater political and economic cooperation down the line.”

As to what Israel could offer Turkmenistan, “the main attraction is probably boosting the Israeli presence in the energy and industrial sectors,” the institute said.

Turkmenistan is keen on developing its military, although the think tank said this might be too provocative a step at this time.

The institute characterized Turkmenistan-Iran relations as “fairly good,” though marred at times by disputes over the price of gas. Nevertheless, ties with Israel could give Turkmenistan leverage down the line with Iran if other disputes emerge, perhaps over maritime borders in the Caspian Sea.

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