Azerbaijan, key ally on Iran's border, eyes Israel embassy after 30 years

There have been tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran, and Iranian state television aired a song threatening Israel and Azerbaijan last week.

 Azerbaijani and Israeli flags. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Azerbaijani and Israeli flags.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Azerbaijan has decided to open an embassy in Israel, after 30 years of relations between the countries and amid tensions with neighboring Iran, local media reported.

Arzu Naghiyev, a lawmaker and member of the Azerbaijan-Israel parliamentary friendship group, told his country's Pravda news site last week that "there is already a decision" and that "the opening of Azerbaijan's embassy in Israel can only be delayed by technical reasons."

Naghiyev pointed out that, despite the lack of an embassy, the countries have high-level ties.

"Israel is our partner of political, military, economic, and cultural-spiritual strategic importance," he said.

The lawmaker also cited Iran opening an additional consulate and declaring close ties with Armenia, with which Azerbaijan fought a war in 2020.

 A tank crosses the Aras River during an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ground forces military drill in the Aras area, East Azerbaijan province, Iran, October 19, 2022. (credit: IRGC/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS) A tank crosses the Aras River during an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ground forces military drill in the Aras area, East Azerbaijan province, Iran, October 19, 2022. (credit: IRGC/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS)

Iranian state television aired a song threatening Israel and Azerbaijan last week, with the lyrics: "Israel...don't dig your own grave with your own hands … Iran declares this so that Azerbaijan knows and understands … anyone who looks at Iran the wrong way must be destroyed."

30 years of relations between Azerbaijan and Israel

President Isaac Herzog wrote a letter in honor of 30 years of relations between Israel and Azerbaijan earlier this year, and invited President Ilham Aliyev to visit Israel and open an embassy.

"As we mark this significant landmark in our relations, I hope to see us fulfill an additional milestone, in the opening of the Azerbaijan Embassy in Israel," Herzog wrote.

"This will be a natural step succeeding the opening of the Tourism Office and the Trade Representation Office, and an attestation to our close and strategic ties."

President Isaac Herzog

"I would like to reiterate my invitation to Your Excellency to visit Israel during this upcoming year, so we may jointly inaugurate your new embassy," Herzog wrote.

Azerbaijan has trade and tourism offices in Israel, but has yet to open an embassy, partly due to not wanting to alienate other Muslim-majority states or to provoke Iran, but the Abraham Accords and rapprochement between Israel and Turkey – in which Aliyev was involved - have made that less of a problem for the South Caucasus country.

Israel has had an embassy in Baku since 1993.

Israel and Azerbaijan have a close defense relationship. Jerusalem has supplied drones to Baku, which were used in its war against Armenia, according to foreign reports. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that 69% of Azerbaijan's arms imports in 2016-2020 came from Israel, which is 17% of Israel's arms exports in that period.

Iran and Azerbaijan share a 420-mile border, and there has long been speculation that Israel has launched covert operations in Iran from its northern neighbor. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian accused Israel of having "established its presence in several regions of Azerbaijan," which Baku denied.

Soon after, Iran staged a military drill with thousands of soldiers along the border with Azerbaijan. Aliyev responded by having himself photographed with Israeli Harop kamikaze drones, which are produced in his country. Tehran has held further military drills near its border with Azerbaijan in recent weeks. 

About 40% of the petroleum imported to Israel comes from Azerbaijan.

Roman Gurevich, the Jewish Agency’s honorary envoy to Azerbaijan, his country of birth, expressed enthusiasm about a possible embassy opening in Israel, saying that “the tie has come.”

“Azerbaijan is a tolerant Shiite Muslim country in which there was never antisemitism,” Gurevich said. “The country always respected and loved the Jewish people and warm relations between the nations will only grow stronger if an Azerbaijan embassy opens in Israel.”