Celebrating 25 years of Azerbaijan-Israel Relations

 Each year on 7 April, we mark the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between State of Israel and Azerbaijan. The Israeli-Azerbaijani partnership has evolved through their robust cooperation in various dimensions for more than two decades now. Israel was the one of the first’s countries, which recognized an independence of Azerbaijan. No country in Eurasia has closer or warmer ties with Israel than Azerbaijan. The relationship between the two countries is particularly surprising because Azerbaijan is a majority-Muslim country. However, the reasons for this close relationship lie in the longstanding friendship between Azerbaijanis and Jews living in Azerbaijan.
Since the declaration of its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has emerged as one closest to friends of Israel in the Muslim world. The search for partners in the Caucasus region, the Jewish state found a willing partner in the Republic of Azerbaijan, a new secular state perched between two former imperial masters Russia and Persia.
Azerbaijan as one of Israel's leading oil suppliers was a good example even of the hostile Muslim countries in the region with regard to the emergence of a prosperous and secure Israel. Despite complicated leasing in terms of geopolitical balance, the two countries, Israel and Azerbaijan, have built together a strong and unwavering partnership and energy is one of these strategic pillars of relations between two states.
Located on the main strategic junctions of transport and energy in the South Caucasus region, which connects Central and Eastern Asia, "Azerbaijan is therefore one of the most important geopolitical pivots," said Zbigniew Brzezinski , Former National Security Advisor to the United States (during the administration of Jimmy Carter). Of course, Israel's interest in receiving reliable oil supplies in Azerbaijan, a strategic oil supplier, is an important factor in the relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. Azerbaijan became an oil producer and the volume of Azerbaijani oil delivered to Israel did not stop to increase more than 45 % of Israeli supplies.
Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shia Muslim country, is also home to several other ethnic and religious groups, including ancient Zoroastrian, Christian, and Jewish communities. Respect and tolerance for national minorities has played a vital role in the development of the country from antiquity to the days of the Silk Road to modernity. Minorities, as well as women, have been ubiquitous in Azerbaijani government since its independence from the Soviet Union. Unlike many cultures, Azerbaijanis have never viewed Jews as foreign or alien. Israelis with roots in Azerbaijan are doing a great deal to foster the emerging economic and even geopolitical cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel.
Relatively few people outside the Azerbaijani or Jewish communities know about the remarkable role that the Jewish community has played in Azerbaijan. The first health minister of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of 1918-20 was Jewish, and there were representatives of Jewish groups in parliament. In addition, during the existence of the Republic from 1918-20, Jewish communities published a Caucasian Jewish bulletin, the “Palestine” newspaper, and a biweekly magazine, “Youth of Zion.” Moreover, throughout the Soviet period, Jews played a major role in the intellectual, economic, and political life of Azerbaijan.
Despite such large-scale murder and displacement, as a result of Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, the core principle of peaceful coexistence continued to define Azerbaijani society. Even as violence has flared over the past more than 25 years of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani society has maintained harmony among  its religions and ethnicities. Today, Azerbaijan is a strong independent state, leader of the South Caucasus geopolitical and geoeconomic processes. Azerbaijan is conducting its own multi-vector foreign policy, independent from Turkey or from Tehran’s foreign policy. Thus, Israel and its people have great respect for Azerbaijan and its president, Ilham Aliyev. They appreciate the efforts of the grand development of the economy in Azerbaijan, which is becoming an important, strong, and independent actor on the international scene.Israel was close to Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over Armenia's aggressor.Otherwise this partner country has shown its support in Azerbaijan for the return of Nagorno-Karabakh and 7 adjacent regions which unfortunately remained for 25 years under the occupation of Armenia.
During his visit to Baku, Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Israeli-Azerbaijani ties as “something that we can show the world.”
“The world sees so much intolerance, so much darkness, and here is an example of what relations can be and should be between Muslims and Jews everywhere,” said Netanyahu.
"Azerbaijan is not only a strategic partner of Israel, but also an example of interreligious and interethnic tolerance. The friendly relations between Azerbaijan and Israel are becoming more and more firm and unbreakable, which undoubtedly benefits both countries. During my repeated visits to Azerbaijan, I felt at home. I met with a number of officials, primarily with President Ilham Aliyev, which allowed us to significantly strengthen cooperation in such areas as high technology, agriculture, energy, and much more, «- said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Azerbaijani Ambassador to the U.S. Elin Suleymanov told JNS.org that Netanyahu’s visit is significant not just from the perspective of intergovernmental relations, but because of Azerbaijan’s vibrant and thriving Jewish community. “This connection with the Jewish community is the backbone of our relations with Israel,” Suleymanov said.
Azerbaijani-Israeli relations are a positive, strategic partnership. Azerbaijani-Israeli trade cooperation flourishes and amounts to nearly $4 billion. In exchange, Azerbaijan needs modern Israeli high technology, agriculture knowledges and technology, communications and computer technology, and modern weaponry. The list goes on and on.
Azerbaijan and Israel, the two allied countries are preparing by 2020 to transport natural gases in large quantities of Leviathan fields, the other Shah Deniz 2 to the direction of the world energy market. The Netanyahu government is pushing hard to accelerate the exploitation of natural gas in the Mediterranean. His restricted cabinet had ended the June exceptional decision to declare the exploitation of this manna as a matter of national security, thus escaping the laws against monopolies. With the exploitation of the Leviathan gas field, Israel is preparing to enter the global gas market as an exporting country. Discovered in 2010, the capacity of the deposit located approximately 130 kilometers off the coast of Haifa is estimated at 535 billion cubic meters. It is the largest gas discovered in the world in ten years. The Leviathan consortium, which includes the Noble Energy Group of the United States and the Israeli Delek Group, aims to develop the Leviathan field by 2019. Following the failure of negotiations with Jordanian Amman and Egypt over the Israeli gas trade, these new geopolitical and commercial factors in the region are likely to lead Tel Aviv to build a gas export pipeline From Israel to Turkey, the former ally.
The construction of a gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey could also greatly improve Israel's regional position. Due to the absence of existing gas pipelines between Turkey and Israel, energy cooperation agreements are being processed between the stakeholders. Haaretz, one of the four biggest national dailies in Israel, stresses the importance of Azerbaijani mediation in building the broken trust between Israel and Turkey, which will create a trilateral trilateral cooperation chain between Israel - Azerbaijan Turkey. The government of Netanyahu is making efforts to accelerate the exploitation of natural gas in the Mediterranean. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers natural gas exports as a means to permanently strengthen Israel's geopolitical position on the world stage by improving relations with neighboring and European countries.
There are several reasons why Israel chooses access to the European market via the option of the TANAP pipeline, known as the Silk Road of Energy internationally. First, Azerbaijan, an energy ally of Israel, has taken a leading role as a decision-maker either as an initiator, as a supplier, or as an expensive infrastructure provider of this pipeline (58%). The TANAP and TAP gas pipelines, as essential components of the Southern Gas Corridor, support the EU's strategic objective of diversifying gas supply sources. This mega project with a total budget of US $ 45 billion aims to diversify the sources of supply in Southern Europe (Italy, Greece) and in Southeastern Europe (Albania, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria) will contribute to the economic growth of regional countries not only European.
The main advantage of the TANAP pipeline is its scalability. Volumes across the TANAP pipeline will increase by 16 billion cubic meters per year, projected for 2020, to 23 billion cubic meters in 2023 and 31 billion cubic meters in 2016 and then 2030. It is also the discussion of the more ambitious capacity these pipelines above 31 billion cubic meters. Increasing the expansion capacity of the Southern Gas Corridor until 2025 requires the transport of additional Turkmen, Iraqi, Israeli or Iranian gas supplies via TANAP.
The Turkish company Zorlu, a major investor already on the Israeli energy market, is also pushing the possibility of building a gas pipeline between Israel and Turkey. At a broader level of the commercial arguments of the Turkish-Israeli companies in favor of this pipeline revitalize the option of the TANAP pipeline by the addition of Israeli gas, which will increase the export capacity of the Southern Gas Corridor to offer 30 billion Cubic meters per year of gas volumes, which will transport Azerbaijani gas from the Caspian Sea by 2020 to the European market. According to Turcas engineering studies, the Turkish energy company involved in exporting reserves to the Leviathan offshore gas field, linking the Leviathan gas field to the Turkish coast at Ceyhan or Mersin, would cost about $ 2.5 billion, TANAP pipeline would cost an additional $ 647 million by joining the Trans-Adriatic (TAP) gas pipeline on the Turkish-Greek border of Ceyhan or Mersin would need an additional $ 1.9 billion.

Evoke that, Prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu's visit on 13 December, the first since 1997, culminated in the signing of four cooperation agreements, one of which set up a joint economic commission, which Netanyahu declared to extend energy cooperation with Azerbaijan. "We obviously have a strong energy relationship," Netanyahu said in an interview with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. "We are talking not only about the sale of oil from Azerbaijan to Israel, which is a very important part of our oil imports, we are talking about the use of common facilities for exporting gas and gas, Interconnection of Israel's gas exports potentially to a large gas pipeline that is being built as we are now talking about Azerbaijan in Turkey. " Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to a plan to export Israeli gas via Turkey to European markets, using The Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) and Trans-Adriatic (TAP) pipelines run by Azerbaijan.

As an Israeli citizen, I can say proudly that the leadership of Azerbaijan shows a great degree of deference and partnership to the Jewish community. Under the patronage of President Ilham Aliyev two synagogues and the largest Jewish educational center in the South Caucasus have been built. Plans are in place for the first Azerbaijani Jewish museum, which will be the first Jewish museum in the South Caucasus.

If one wonders how the majority Muslim country of Azerbaijan came to such a rich alliance with Israel today, one need look no further than the Red Village, a tiny river conclave in the mountainous region of Quba. There, for centuries, a Jewish community has thrived amid a Muslim population. The ancient town of ‘Krasnaya Sloboda’ (Quba) in northern Azerbaijan, said to be the only all-Jewish town outside of Israel, is the pride of Azerbaijan. In this region, Jewish and Muslim Azerbaijanis have been living harmoniously for centuries. Despite Armenia’s ethnic cleansing and aggression toward Azerbaijan, which includes occupation of 20% of its territories and one million refugees and internally displaced people, Azerbaijan is a true model of inter-civilizational and interfaith dialogue. Tolerance and multiculturalism are key foundations of the Azerbaijani society. Azerbaijan has made a concerted effort to create and foster the necessary political and social conditions for developing and strengthening the country’s traditions of multiculturalism and tolerance.

Time and again, Azerbaijan has demonstrated that harmony is possible, and issues can be resolved without resorting to violence or strife. Importantly, President Aliyev has earned the respect of a wide swath of Israeli society for his dedication in this realm and to the Jews of Azerbaijan.


Co-authors: Arye Gut, Israeli expert on international relations and Said Musayev, Azerbaijani researcher engaged in fighting against Antisemitism