An Israeli PM in a Muslim country

Netanyahu’s visit to Azerbaijan highlights the regional contrast.

December 17, 2016 19:46
3 minute read.
Israel Azerbaijan

Netanyahu with Azerbaijan President Ilham Heydar Oghlu Aliyev. (photo credit: CHAIM ZACH / GPO)

Last week marked the first time an Israeli prime minister has undertaken a state visit to majority-Muslim Azerbaijan, the world’s only nation to share borders with both Russia and Iran.

Azerbaijan and Israel have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1992.

They are close partners in commerce – Israel buys 40% of its oil from Azerbaijan, oil that comes out of the ground in Azerbaijan and is pumped through a thousand-mile pipeline westward through Christian Georgia and Muslim Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea. Israel sells technology, manufactured goods and the hi-tech military equipment Azerbaijan needs to protect itself – primarily from aggression by neighboring Armenia which has invaded and occupied 20% of its territory.

Azerbaijan has purchased $4.85 billion worth of military equipment and talks are being held regarding Azerbaijan’s possible purchase of Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system.

Aside from billions in trade in oil, military equipment, hi-tech and biotech sales, Israel is motivated by the universally recognized religious tolerance and religious freedom that characterize daily life in Azerbaijan.

Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and German Lutheran Christian churches operate within sight of Muslim mosques and Jewish synagogues, and all are officially supported by the state. A healthy Jewish population lives and works in the capital city of Baku and a substantial Jewish population lives north of Baku; they are called Mountain Jews and there are 20,000 of them. They have been in Azerbaijan for two millennia, and many came via Persia after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This writer has spoken with many of them in their synagogues, which the Soviet Union prohibited them to worship in for seven decades. They are happy to be part of the modern Azerbaijan and its growing economy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit offers us a great opportunity to recognize the contrast between Azerbaijan and the many radicals states in the Middle East. When President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism and clearly stated that countries were “either with us or against us” in that war, Azerbaijan stepped up and joined the US in prosecuting that war, which it continues to do to this day. American troops and materiel moved through Azerbaijan air space to Afghanistan and still do. Azerbaijan sent troops to serve side by side with American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

They are still there, 14 years later.

Azerbaijan has gone further in the past few days. Azerbaijan vigorously prosecutes and has prosecuted any of its people that have gone to fight for the murderous Islamic State in its “caliphate” of Iraq and Syria.

On CBS’s 60 Minutes Netanyahu openly discussed what he would say to President-elect Donald Trump on the subject of deals with Iran. Surely he can and will discuss relations with Iran’s next-door neighbor, US ally Azerbaijan. Mr. Trump, he should say, the US should increase its attentiveness to Azerbaijan, Israel’s close friend and trading partner.

Not many countries have the courage to prohibit the flow of Russian arms through their borders, arms headed to the butchery of Syria and its Muslims. Azerbaijan does; not many Muslim countries have heavy lifeline trade with Israel.

The reality of Azerbaijan isn’t obvious to many Americans because they are simply unaware of this thriving republic that threw off Soviet shackles and has joined the West. It has brought stability, tolerance and progress to a part of the world most people consider to be dangerous. America’s friend Prime Minister Netanyahu lives every day as a friend of Azerbaijan; his historic visit marks great progress between the Jewish state and a Muslim nation. Netanyahu can do the United States a service by making clear to the President-elect that Azerbaijan is a good partner to it and to the US.

A friend of our friend is our friend.

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