(photo credit: AP)
The desire of two key Muslim states to strengthen cooperation with the Jewish state has won out against a campaign of pressure from Israel's enemies in the Islamic world.
In a state visit to Azerbaijan over the weekend, members of President Shimon Peres's delegation learned of concerted efforts by the Iranian regime to torpedo the event. According to a senior Israeli official traveling with the president, this apparently included a demand by the Iranian military's chief of staff, while on a visit to the county a month earlier, to cancel the Israeli state visit.
The reports of the demand ran in the Azeri press. The Iranian government has not responded to them.
The Israeli delegation also visited Kazakhstan, but Azerbaijan is particularly susceptible to pressure from Iran, its southern neighbor. With about a 10th of Iran's population, it shares with the Islamic republic both a long border and a Shi'ite populace. It also has to take into account a sizable Azeri minority living in Iran when it determines its policy toward its larger neighbor.
Yet, despite these realities, "Azerbaijan took a brave step [in proceeding with the visit], and I salute the president [Ilham Aliyev] for resisting these pressures," said Trade and Industry Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is accompanying Peres on the trip.
According to a member of Peres's entourage, "There are clearly special security issues when the president visits a country, however friendly, whose borders are not closed to Israel's most bitter enemies."