The key date for the historic visit was set. For a few days Benjamin Netanyahu will be the first time to pay an official visit to Azerbaijan. An historic visit because the leader of the Jewish government Netanyahu will visit on 13 December a Muslim country and he will meet with his counterpart and his close friend Ilham Aliyev.

Since the Balfour Declaration of 100 years and its creation in 1948 the State of Israel has been the target of fierce criticism all over the world even in Europe where pro-Gaza demonstrations have sometimes turned into anti-Semitic riots. The State of Israel faces hostile neighboring states. For this he has no choice but to ensure the safety of his fellow citizens against rocket attacks and to defend his national interests before diplomatic attacks before the tribunals of international organizations.

The strong relations of cooperation between the Hebrew State – Israel and the secular state of the Shia Muslim majority - Azerbaijan represent an exemplary model for most countries of the world, not just for the Arab-Muslim world. In the most difficult moments, next to each other, both countries have been generous with their support. The reasons for this close relationship lie both in the long-standing friendship between Azerbaijan and the Jews living in Azerbaijan. Unlike many peoples of modern societies, Azerbaijanis have never seen Jews as outsiders. Thus, the economic and even emerging political cooperation between the two States is working; this development is favored by the Israelis with roots in Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani Jews who live in Israel or in other countries such as Russia and the United States. 

Diplomatic genesis of bilateral relations

Azerbaijan is the third Muslim country after Turkey and Egypt to develop bilateral strategic and economic relations with Israel. The diplomatic ties between Israel and Azerbaijan were established as early as the first days of independence of Azerbaijan proclaimed on 18 October 1991.

The pillars of the Israeli-Azerbaijani strategic ties were built on solid concrete by Heydar Aliyev, founder of independent Azerbaijan. As a result, a favorable condition has been created for the Jews to live in this country.

Prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu will be visiting to Azerbaijan after 20 years. Namely, during his leadership Benjamin Netanyahu was the first head of government who was personally hosted at night at Baku international airport on August 1997 by Heydar Aliyev. The visit lasting a few hours had a great impact on the development of the relations of two countries.

Azerbaijan, country of a booming economy, is first economy of the South Caucasus region 49.2 billion Manat GDP ($ 24.6 billion US, with current rate). Azerbaijan as led by the pragmatic politician Ilham Aliyev, conducts its own multi-vector foreign policy. Thus, Israel and its people have great respect for Azerbaijan and President Aliyev. They appreciate the efforts of the great development of the economy in Azerbaijan, which is becoming an important, strong and independent actor on the international scene. President Ilham Aliyev has made progress on instituting market-based economic reforms and business environment in his country.

The bilateral partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan includes cooperation in trade and security issues, agriculture, technology and communication,  military and security fields, medicine and the exchange of intelligence information, Indeed, the deregulation of the industrial sector in Azerbaijan and the measures of liberalization of the economy attracted the Israeli companies. (Modcom System LTD, Elta systems, Bezeq, Maccabee beer, Soltam, Tadrian Communications, etc.) Many companies have invested in services, agriculture, technology and telecommunications in Azerbaijan. Bakcell, which started with a joint venture between the Azerbaijani Ministry of Communications and Israeli GTIB in early 1994. As the first cell phone operator Bakcell backs up its important position in the mobile market of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani-Israeli relations are a positive strategic partnership.

Azerbaijani-Israeli trade cooperation flourishes and amounts to nearly 4 billion dollars in 2016. This makes Azerbaijan the main trading partner of Israel within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).  Although previously focused on the oil and gas industry, it is now extending to other sectors of the economy.

It is necessary to point out that Israel is one of the main buyers of Azerbaijani oil to world markets, but Israel has several more reasons to seek stronger relations with Baku. Azerbaijan plays an important role as a reliable supplier of energy, including about 40% of oil supplies of Israel.

Israel has always exposed an equitable attitude towards Armenia for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Considering that Azerbaijan has a million of refugees and is suffering from occupation of more than 20% of its territories by Armenia since 1992, this cooperation obviously makes a special meaning for the Azerbaijanis.  Tel-Aviv has unambiguously supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and 9th Israeli President Shimon Peres confirmed it with his official visit to Azerbaijan in 2009.

As a result of this historical visit, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd announced that it would build a drone factory in Baku. After 3 years Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd, globally recognized as a leader in developing military and commercial aerospace technology, signed a new agreement with the state of Azerbaijan to sell $ 1.6 billion worth of drones, as well as anti-aircraft defense systems and missiles.

Israel and Azerbaijan have developed a deep strategic relationship to confront common threats and ensure regional security too. Common threats mean Azerbaijan and Israel face numerous shared challenges, including terrorism, proliferation, counterfeiting, cyber warfare and the spread of radical Islamist ideology.

The invisible parts of the ‘Israeli-Azerbaijan partnership iceberg’ are cooperation in the fields of defense, security and military. Israel plays an important role in modernizing the defense and military system of Azerbaijan. The invisible parts of this ‘iceberg’ are mutual benefits, both nations gain from a strong strategic partnership that draws upon Israel’s leadership in designing advanced military, homeland security, counter terrorism and cyber protection technologies that it shares with Azerbaijan.

Armenia relies on military partnership with Moscow, north neighbor. This allows Armenia to manipulate the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which is internationally recognized as an Azerbaijani territory, but has been under the illegal control of the Armenian army for 25 years.

When the war broke out, Iran remained largely neutral despite the fact that the vast majority of the Shiites lived in Azerbaijan and that 25 million Azerbaijanis lived in Iran. Iran has traditionally supported the socio-economic development of Armenia and blamed Azerbaijan for its close ties with Israel. This visit cannot without concern the neighbor south of Azerbaijan, Iran. Iran has also accused the Azerbaijani authorities of assisting the Israeli intelligence service. This shows Iran's anxiety and mistrust about the development of relations between Azerbaijan and Israel.

Certainly the failure of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance in the fight against the radical and extremist currents of the region would be damaging and would have unpredictable consequences for Baku and Jerusalem. Tehran's attempts to impose its religious ideology could have catastrophic repercussions on Israel's security and the potential of Azerbaijan to be an independent and strong ally in the region.

According Arye Gut, Israeli expert on international affairs, noted that "Azerbaijan has taken a courageous stance against efforts to destabilize the region," making an obvious reference to Iran. Arye Gut points out that an anti-Semitic sentiment, prevalent in a large part of the Arab world, is practically non-existent in Azerbaijan.

Another important factor is the fact that Israel doesn’t remain indifferent face to the occupation of Armenia on the Azerbaijani territories. Tel Aviv has consistently expressed support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. All these factors show that Israel and Azerbaijan have a strong economic and political basis for cooperation, supported by an all-important human bridge: the Jewish community in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani Jews in the World.

The historic visit of Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly conclude with the signing of the documents of agreement of the field of agriculture until the consolidation of the military-technical cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan. Israel-Azerbaijan deep strategic partnership will show the international community their full loyalty to the Muslim countries, secular and otherwise, that remain friendly to Israel. Finally this official visit will deepen the qualitative impasse of the ‘iceberg’ to long-running Israel-Azerbaijan relations.

                                                                                                Arye Gut and Said Musayev


Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

Think others should know about this? Please share