Last week I saw an article on why “Israel should rethink its relationship with Azerbaijan,” signed by the communications director of the Western Region of the Armenian National Committee of America.
Leaving aside the idea of a third-party giving advices to two sovereign countries across the ocean, I would like to answer this fine gentleman. After covering this region for approximately a decade as a journalist, I think it’s important shortly and as simple as possible to explain why there is no reason to “rethink” this relationship.
Azerbaijan is situated on the oil rich Caspian Sea, and it is known that Israel gets a good third of its oil from Azerbaijan. The black gold travels through the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, and from Turkey it is shipped to Israel.
Being surrounded by hostile entities, Israel put a lot of importance on energy security. The oil crisis of 1973 taught us a great lesson, and this caused Israel to pursue a close relationship with Azerbaijan, which became one of our most important suppliers of oil.
2. The Iranian threat
Let’s be clear, Iran is a real threat to Israel. Iran calls for the destruction of Israel. A second Holocaust is Iran’s leadership’s true desire. The ayatollah regime brought Israel and Azerbaijan closer and made these countries natural allies, since both see Iran as an existential threat.
After all, we’re not the only state being threatened by it. Tehran fear that its considerable Azeri minority may have aspirations for independence, which forms the basis of its relations with Baku. As a result, Azerbaijan is very interested in firming up its relationship with the Jewish state.
3. Weapons and technology
The alliance between the states is also solidified by a close military cooperation. Azerbaijan is one of the largest importers of Israeli military equipment. In the last few years, according President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan had purchased at least $5 billion worth of weapons and defense systems from Israel.
Furthermore, Israel shares with Azerbaijan many of its technological innovations. Dozens (if not hundreds) of Israeli hi-tech, medical and agricultural companies operate all over this country. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership that works extremely well for both parties.
4. Israel needs Azerbaijan to be strong
Flourishing and safe Azerbaijan is not only Israel’s efficient economic partner, but also our eyes and ears in Tehran. However, Azerbaijan has its own problems. Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan are once again heightened.
On July 12, a flare-up between both countries occurred in the Tavish region, and Erevan officials have accused Baku of launching an attack against them last week. Despite being rather neutral on this issue, we have to remember that the international law is clearly on the Azerbaijani side.
Since 1991, Armenia has been controlling Nagorno-Karabakh, some 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory. Approximately one million citizens of Azerbaijan have been made refugees due to this conflict. And the Armenians know that as long as Israel remains Azerbaijan’s close friend and ally, the Azeri Army will always be able to defend its territory and to protect its citizens.
5. Non-Arab partnership
As ever, Israel cultivates friendships with non-Arabs on its regional periphery. Iran was Israel’s unspoken ally during the era of the shah of Iran. Turkey was and still remains a very important partner of Israel, not to mention our biggest friends in the region – Greece and Cyprus. Small countries need as many allies as it can get, and Azerbaijan is definitely an important ally.
To conclude: Israel was one of the first countries to recognize this Caucasian state shortly after it declared independence in 1991. Ever since Azerbaijan’s independence almost 30 years ago, relations between the Jewish state and a Shia Muslim one have grown and flourished. Both have to watch Iran closely; both have things the other wants. And the relationship has worked for decades. There is no reason to “rethink” this relationship, because frankly, it’s one of the best there is.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of IzRus.co.il and a political strategist.