For Israel, own interests precede democracy

By Eli Nacht | April 10, 2018

Translated from Hebrew by Nurit Greenger

I recently took part in the Russian presidential elections as an international observer for Israel. Now I am in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, as part of a respected Israeli delegation, as an international observer for Israel in the presidential elections in Azerbaijan. After the expected election of President Vladimir Putin for another term, I heard in the Israeli media criticism of my participation in this election process, claiming that by virtue of my participation, I gave the elections in Russia international legitimacy, thereby, helping to demonstrate the cloak of "democracy," which is so important to the Russians. Now I hear similar voices in the context of the elections in Azerbaijan.

I want to emphasize the obvious and say that I am not a Russian and I am not Azerbaijani; I am an Israeli. Therefore, I see only the interests of Israel before my eyes. I do not think there is a need to elaborate on the importance of Israel's relationship with Russia at this time, and the role played by Vladimir Putin in the Middle East, especially on Israel’s northern border.

 Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
 Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, re-elected for another 7 years term
 Russian President Vladimir Putin

Today, when Syria is imprisoned between three masters: the Turkish president, the Iranian president and the president of Russia, Israel has no other channel for transmitting messages, apart from the Russian channel. Had the government of Israel not created a strategic and even personal relationship between Netanyahu and Putin, the diplomatic channel would have been blocked for Israel. A state that cannot create an external system strategy dialogue with the regional powers around it a state with a disabled external system. We must ensure that the Israeli interests are on the agenda.

I am not naive to think that Russia cares about Israel's security, but it is Israel’s job to create a balance of interests, so that Israel’s interests will be taken into account. "In politics there are no friends or enemies, there are only interests," Winston Churchill accurately diagnosed. Only thanks to good cooperation with the Russian security forces Israelis can drink coffee in Tel Aviv today, when only a few dozen kilometers from Israel there is a bloody civil war with hundreds of thousands dead and untold number of refugees.

Similarly, the importance of the strategic relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel, which is critical to Israel, and seconds the relations Israel has with the United States.

The main difference between them is that the less the public and the international community know about the nature of these relations, the more powerful and meaningful they can be for both sides.

The strategic relationship between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the state of Israel is critical for Israel and is second only to the relationship Israel has with the United States. Israel has few allies among the Muslim countries, while Israel has maintained a stable and sympathetic relations with Azerbaijan for the past 20 years.

Not many Israelis know that the energy security of the State of Israel depends, to a large extent, on one person, his name is Ilham Aliyev and his job is the President of Azerbaijan. Mr. Aliyev is directly responsible for supplying two-thirds of the oil coming to Israel. And let us not forget that Iran is Azerbaijan's neighbor along its southern border, and it is enough for the wise to get the hint and understand the strategic role this country plays in Israel security wrap.

To all this one can add the fast-growing trade relations between the two countries, already reaching a turnover of five billion dollars. Also, the fact that in Azerbaijan, a majority Muslim country, there is a large, vibrant Jewish community of tens of thousands of Jews who continue to maintain their Jewish tradition and feel fully secured as citizens of the state. Azerbaijan is one of the few countries where anti-Semitism has completely bypassed it. All that thanks to the strong and stable leadership that has existed in the country for generations.

Stability is the keyword. Israelis have a primary interest which is to maintain the stability of the Azeri regime. Israelis have already seen to what chaos the game of democracy can lead, which took place in the Middle East during the Arab Spring. It is enough to recall the scenario of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and to understand the inherent danger in it. Israelis must not pursue the European democracy and liberalism model. While this sounds nice and advanced, the attempt to dress this model on other countries may lead to the opposite result, which is destructive to Israel.

Beyond all that we must remember that democracy is not a dichotomous term but it has a broad spectrum of possibilities. Democracy that suits the countries of the Middle East and the countries of the former Soviet Union is not the same democracy as the one of Germany or Switzerland. There is nothing wrong with that. Every state and its regime’s culture that suits it best at some point in time. I am convinced that in the future the political systems in these countries will be different than it is today, but this will happen in a gradual and evolutionary process at a pace that is compatible with the mood in that country.

Israelis cannot and should not intervene in the internal affairs of any country, rather take care of their own interests. Israelis’ clear interest today is to maintain as close as possible relationship with both Russia and Azerbaijan, and above all, see to the stability of the government of these two countries.

Eli Nacht, Representative of the International Committee for Human Rights in Israel wrote this story, translated into English by Nurit Greenger at