A general view of Akorda, the official residence of Kazakhstan's President, in Astana, Kazakhstan..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Kazakhstan Defense Minister Imangali Nurgaliuly Tasmagambetov met with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday, some four months before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Kazakhstan and become the first ever sitting Israeli prime minister to visit central Asia.
Netanyahu’s visit will take place just two weeks before Muslim-majority Kazakhstan takes up a two-year rotating seat on the UN Security Council.
One government official characterized Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Kazakhstan as “historic,” saying it will be an opportunity for a breakthrough in diplomatic and economic relations between the two states.
Tasmagambetov was here to deepen the security relationship between the two countries.
According to a statement by the Kazakh Defense Ministry, an agreement was reached on the joint production of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The UAVs, using Israeli technology, are to be manufactured in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan was hit by two terrorist attacks since the beginning of the year, and – according to Israeli officials – is driving an interest in Astana for closer security ties with Israel. Kazakhstan, the officials said, is concerned about a spillover of terrorism from nearby Afghanistan, as well as home-grown terrorism. The country has admitted that several hundred of its nationals are fighting with Islamic State in Syria, and they are worried about what will happen when they return home.
The central Asian nation is interested, the officials said, in tapping into Israel’s experience with homeland security and border vigilance. The officials said that Israel is interested in selling weapons systems to Kazakhstan, but is constrained because of concern that the technology might “leak out” to others, and because of Russian sensitivities.
There are certain state-of-the art systems that Israel does not sell to the Russians, the officials explained, and it would be difficult to then turn around and sell the same systems to Kazakhstan.
The officials also said that the military industry in the country is pushing for sales to Kazakhstan, believing that it could be primed to be one of the major markets in the world for Israeli weapons systems. The Kazakh defense minister visited Elbit Systems and Rafael during his visit.
According to the Kazakh Defense Ministry, Tasmagambetov said during his meeting with Lieberman that “Security is the main condition of effective development of any country. It is natural that we are keen on development of our relations with your country in defense-related issues. For this, we have a firm legal framework in the field of military- technical cooperation.”
Beyond arms, Kazakhstan is seen as a huge untapped market for Israeli companies, especially in the fields of agriculture, health and alternative energy. It is a massive country, the 9th largest country in the world in terms of physical size, and is a country which supplies Israel with about a quarter of its oil.
Despite this, Kazakhstan consistently votes against Israel in international forums, with one diplomatic official explaining that in so doing it is aligning itself both with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of which it is a member, and with Russia, which also consistently votes against Israel, despite strong bilateral ties.
One official said that while it is unlikely that Kazakhstan would change its voting patterns, Netanyahu will – in his discussions during his planned 24-hour visit to the country with President Nursultan Nazarbayev – try to change such voting patterns in the Security Council.
“This is what is important,“ one official said. “In other UN forums they may continue voting like they have, but what is important to us is what they will do on the Security Council. We need to invest in them to influence their vote.”
This will be Netanyahu’s first meeting with Nazarbayev, who has been president for some 27 years. Nazarbayev developed a good relationship over the years with Shimon Peres, who visited the country as president in 2009.