Azerbaijan to become first Shi'ite Muslim country with embassy in Israel

The new embassy will be in Tel Aviv, where Azerbaijan country already has a Tourism Office and a Trade Representative Office.

Flag of Azerbaijan (photo credit: REUTERS)
Flag of Azerbaijan
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Azerbaijan is set to become the first Shi’ite-majority state to open an embassy in Israel, following parliamentary approval on Friday.

The new embassy, which The Jerusalem Post reported was in the works last month, will be in Tel Aviv, where the country already has tourism and trade representative offices. Israel and Azerbaijan have had relations for 30 years, and there has been an Israeli embassy in Baku since 1993.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised the decision, calling Azerbaijan “an important partner of Israel and home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Muslim world.

“The decision to open an embassy reflects the depth of the relations between the countries,” Lapid added. “This move is the fruit of efforts by the Israeli government to build strong diplomatic bridges with the Muslim world.”

Tension with Iran and Armenia

 Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) attend an IRGC ground forces military drill in the Aras area, East Azerbaijan province, Iran, October 17, 2022. (credit: IRGC/WANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) attend an IRGC ground forces military drill in the Aras area, East Azerbaijan province, Iran, October 17, 2022. (credit: IRGC/WANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Baku’s decision comes amid tensions with Tehran. 

Arzu Naghiyev, a lawmaker and member of the Azerbaijan-Israel parliamentary friendship group, in an interview last month, tied the potential embassy in Israel with Tehran opening an additional consulate and declaring close ties with Armenia, with which Azerbaijan fought a war in 2020.

In Iran, which has a large Azeri minority, state television aired a song threatening Israel and Azerbaijan, 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.”

Iran and Azerbaijan share a 670-kilometer 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 has denied.

Soon after that, Iran staged a military drill with thousands of soldiers along the border. Azerbaijani President Ilham 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.

Israel-Azerbaijan relations

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

Baku had been hesitant to do so in the past, 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 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 represents 17% of Israel’s arms exports in that period. About 40% of the petroleum imported to Israel comes from Azerbaijan.