People walk along a seafront, with newly built high-rise residential and commercial buildings in the background, in Baku.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BAKU – Azerbaijan views Israel as a “very important” ally and strategic partner, Ali Hasanov, a senior adviser to President Ilham Aliyev, said on Monday.
Hasanov’s comments followed a meeting he had with a small Israeli delegation to Baku, led by Acre Mayor Shimon Lankry, who is building a community center in his town for the some 9,000 Azerbaijani Jews – or 20 percent of his city – who live there.
Hasanov said the ties between his country, a secular Muslim state that borders Iran to the north, and Israel will continue to develop and flourish “despite the pressures.”
“We have relations with all countries of the world according to our interests,” he said, including countries that are enemies and rivals of one another.
He pointed to Azerbaijan’s ties with the US and Russia as one example and its ties with Israel and Iran, as well as with Israel and Turkey, perhaps Baku’s closest ally, as another.
Hasanov, accompanied Aliyev for meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month and said that at no time did anyone there ask Azerbaijan to cut or cool down its rapidly developing relations with Israel.
With Israel buying 40% of its oil from Azerbaijan, and considering that country’s geography, it is clear why ties between the two states are so important for Jerusalem.
Hasanov said that among the reasons Israel is so significant to Azerbaijan is because it is a very important state in the Middle East and also because of its advanced technology.
Also, he said, good ties with Israel help Azerbaijan in Washington, both through Jewish groups active in the capital and through the many discussions Israeli leaders have with their American counterparts.
The countries also have a very robust defense relationship.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman earlier this month put the annual amount of bilateral trade between the two countries at more than $5 billion, more than Israel trades with France.
Hasanov said the ties are an outgrowth of a strong historical relationship between Azerbaijanis and Jews, with the Jewish community in that country going back some 2,500 years.
There are an estimated 9,000 Jews in Azerbaijan, and tens of thousands of Azerbaijani Jews in Israel.
Some 92% of Azerbaijan’s population of 9.4 million are Muslims, with 65% of them being Shi’ite. Hasanov said it was “very important” for Israel to develop ties with Islamic states, and that Azerbaijan – a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference – can be an example of an Islamic state that has good relations with Israel.
The relations can show other Muslim states that even if there are things with which there are disagreements with Israel, there are other areas where there are agreements and it is possible to cooperate, Hasanov said.
On Tuesday, the Baku International Multiculturalism Center is to hold an event commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, one of the very few events marking the Holocaust to be held in an Islamic country.