PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Astana on Tuesday. .
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The short but productive visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan had two purposes. One was to improve the bilateral relations between Israel and the two nations. This is a goal that was achieved by emphasizing the strong military, oil and general trade ties and reaching understandings to enhance them in the future in the fields of agriculture, hi-tech and medicine. Azerbaijan has been buying weapons over several years from Israel worth close to $5 billion. Israel buys nearly 70% of its oil consumption from the two countries.
Azerbaijan, located in the Caucasus region, and Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, are Muslim republics. Friendly relations with both of them, and especially the strategic alliance with Azerbaijan, should not be taken for granted. After all, relations between the Jewish state and Muslim nations are very rare. With a few exceptions – Egypt, Jordan and Central Asian republics – most Muslim nations have neither diplomatic relations nor any other official encounters with Israel.
Netanyahu hopes his visit to the two countries – one Sunni and one Shi’ite – will serve as a shining example for other Muslim and especially Arab nations to follow suit. The prime minister has time and again – including during this week’s visit – emphasized that Israel is breaking its so-called diplomatic isolation. He has mentioned several times that more and more nations are improving ties with Israel and many leaders are flocking to visit Jerusalem.
Netanyahu also often mentions his secret meetings with some Arab leaders whom he refuses to name. He likes to discuss how they seek Israeli advanced technology and know-how. But even he admits that opening ties with these nations won’t happen overnight.
Some experts are less optimistic.
Arab and Muslim nations which maintain clandestine relations with Israel do it because they fear the common enemy – Iran – and they need Israeli military and intelligence expertise and sometimes believe that the Jewish state has the keys to Washington doors.
Yet, it is very unlikely that they will be ready in the foreseeable future to take those ties out of the closet.
It probably won’t happen as long as there is not progress in the peace process with the Palestinians. And as things stand at the moment with the diplomatic impasse between Israel and the Palestinian Authority the future is not very bright.