Avigdor Liberman on a visit to Azerbaijan, visiting the Eternal Fire memorial in Baku.
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrived in Azerbaijan on Thursday for his first visit to the strategic Muslim country that borders Iran, is one of the biggest markets for Israeli arms, and sells Israel 40% of its oil.
Liberman met with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, and is expected to meet as well during the visit with the country’s prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and interior minister. The talks are expected to focus on regional issues as well as security cooperation.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an organization that monitors global arms sales, Israel was Azerbaijan’s largest arms exporter for the last two years, selling the country $385 million worth of arms. Azerbaijan was the second largest recipient of Israeli arms in 2016, after India, and the third largest in 2017, following India and Vietnam.
Liberman’s visit follows a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Baku in December 2016. Aliyev, during a press conference with Netanyahu, announced that Azerbaijan had signed long-term contracts to buy some $5 billion worth of security and military equipment from Israel.
Liberman arrived in Azerbaijan from Georgia, where he was the first Israeli defense minister to ever visit that country. He met there with Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, Defense Minister Levan Izoria and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani.
Liberman issued a statement, saying that there are four areas of security cooperation between the two countries: cyber defense, assistance in creating a reservist service, combating terrorism and homeland protection.
In the decade before the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, Israel sold the small South Caucasian state between $300m. and $500m.
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in military hardware. Perhaps even more importantly, defense contractors were involved in training the Georgian military, and among those involved were former generals, such as Yisrael Ziv and Gal Hirsch.
But following the war, Israel had to carefully calibrate its security ties with Georgia so as not to antagonize Russia or harm relations with the Kremlin.
According to a Wikileaks cable from September 2008, a month after the war, Russia – in the words of then-US ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle – urged Israel not to resume arms sales to Georgia.
In August, Georgia’s ambassador to Israel Paata Kalandadze acknowledged in a Jerusalem Post interview that no new defense contracts between Israel and Georgia have been signed since the war, though existing ones were completed.
The defense cooperation “was completed in due time, in accordance to agreements by both sides,” he said.
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