“Israel also provides training for Azerbaijani security and intelligence services, as well as security for the Azerbaijani president during his foreign visits. Israel might have also set up electronic listening stations along the Caspian Sea and Iranian border…Israeli military have been a major provider of battlefield aviation, artillery, antitank, and anti-infantry weapon to Azerbaijan.’
Why Azerbaijan Has No Full Diplomatic Relations
Azerbaijan and Israel has a developed relationship on the economical and political spheres and Israel consider Azerbaijan as its important strategic partner in the region. But despite of the developed relationship between these states Azerbaijan has no full diplomatic relation with Israel. This factor has a great impact on the relations between two states. During her interview with the Azerbaijani news agency Today.Az, Israeli Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni also addressed a statement to the Azerbaijani government that why Azerbaijani embassy has not been opened in Israel. For answering this question we have to look at the historical development of the relations between these two countries and analyze the reason why Azerbaijan has not opened its embassy in Israel.
Azerbaijan is the third Muslim country after Turkey and Egypt to develop bilateral strategic and economic relations with Israel. It established relations with Israel after gaining its independence in 1991. Azerbaijan is a secular state with eight million predominantly Shiite and ethnically Turkic population. But despite it is religious view, Azerbaijan has no anti-Semitic tradition in its history. Even from the late 19th century, Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, became one of the centres of the Zionist movement in the Russian empire and the first Havevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) was created here in 1891, followed by the first Zionist organization in 1899.
The movement remained strong in the short-lived Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920) marked with the establishment of the Jewish Popular University in 1919, and a number of schools, social clubs, benevolent societies and cultural organizations. Even the Minister of Health, Dr. Yevsei Gindes, of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was an Ashkenazi Jew.
Following history we know that, Russia was one of the birth places of the anti-Semitism in Europe. Because of that reason, with the occupation of Azerbaijan by the Soviet Union in 1920, all Jews organizations in Azerbaijan were closed. Beginning in the 1960s, Azerbaijani Jewish community has experienced cultural revival. Jewish samizdat (Samostoyatelnoe Izdatelstvo-independent publication, during the Soviet Union there was such a publication, which had no connection to the state) publication began. Many cultural and Zionist organizations were re-established in Baku and Sumgait since 1987, and the first legal Hebrew courses and the first Jews Sochnut School in the Soviet Union was opened in Baku, in 1982.
Today the country has prided itself on its good relations with Israel and Jewish minority in the country. Azerbaijan is a home to some 11,000 Mountain Jews, residing primarily in Baku and Krasnaya Sloboda settlement in the Quba district of Azerbaijan. There are also nearly 5000 Ashkenazi Jews living mostly in Baku.
While looking at the relations of Israel with the Azerbaijan Republic, since its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has a good relation on the field of strategic matters, security, and trade, cultural and educational exchange with Israel. After independence of Azerbaijan, there were diplomatic negotiations over the exchange ambassadors between the two states. Eliezer Yotvat appointed as a first ambassador of Israel to Azerbaijan. But the embassy of Azerbaijan has not been open in Israel.
In October 2001, President of Azerbaijan, Haydar Aliyev pledged to open an embassy in Israel and sent his Foreign Minister to visit Israeli government. But until today Azerbaijan has not fulfilled its responsibility to open an embassy in Israel, because of some political events. Azerbaijan has said that, its complicated geopolitical situation, particularly its proximity to Iran, as well as its membership in international Islamic organizations, prevented it from opening a mission in Israel.
But despite all these, Azerbaijan-Israel strategic cooperation grows step by step; even Azerbaijani government has an unofficial representative, AZAL (Azerbaijan National Airline), in Israel.
Iran Islamic Republic was worry about the development of the relation between Azerbaijan and Israel. For that reason after Ilham Aliyev became the president of Azerbaijan in October 2003, Iran, the biggest threat for Israel in the Middle East, tried to improve the diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan in favour of cutting relations with Israel. Even several high-level Iranian military officers visited Baku in August 2004, intended Azerbaijan to cease security cooperation with Israel and stop receiving Israeli military and intelligence officers.
But for Azerbaijan to have relationship with Israel is much more important than Iran, because Israel was one of the strategic partners and supporters of Azerbaijan in Karabakh War with Armenia. As a result of Nagorno-Karabakh War, nearly 20% of Azerbaijan territory was occupied by Armenian troops and till today it has been under the control of Armenia. The war caused almost one million Azeris to flee from Armenia and the occupied territories. In this war Iran and Russia traditionally supported Armenia. When war broke out, Iran just remained largely neutral despite the fact that a large Shiite majority inhabited Azerbaijan. Iran, a country ruled by Muslim Shiites, has an Azeri ethnic minority population living in the northwest corner of the country, known as “southern Azerbaijan”, totaling more than 25 million people, compared with a population in Azerbaijan of 8 million. During the Nagorno-Garabagh conflict, Iran was suspicious that, support for Azerbaijan against Armenia would encourage for unification between the two “divided” Azerbaijan that had been separated by the Persian and Russian Empires since the 19th century. Because of these Iran supported Armenia against Azerbaijan. Even in April 1992, for example, Iran supplied natural gas and fuel to Armenia, which helped sustain Armenian action. Iranian-Armenian cooperation seems to be developed in future, and currently there are negotiations over the construction of Armenia-Iran railway and building a new gas pipeline. Iran is using Armenia as a potential buffer to insulate against the future rise of power of Azerbaijan.
But looking at the other side of the coin, in April 1993, in response to the Armenian occupation of Azeri lands, Turkey closed its border with Armenia. Throughout the conflict Israel also supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. According to London based Arabic language weekly al-Wassat, during Nagorno-Karabakh War Israel and Turkey have provided Stinger missiles to Azerbaijan. Even many Azerbaijanis expressed the hope that friendship with Israel may help resolve the continued Nagorno-Karabakh dispute and expatiate Azerbaijan’s integration with the West.
Israel also provides training for Azerbaijani security and intelligence services, as well as security for the Azerbaijani president during his foreign visits. Israel might have also set up electronic listening stations along the Caspian Sea and Iranian border. In sum, Iran and Armenia see that, cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel is a big threat for Iranian-Armenian relations, and also see Azerbaijan as a part of a geostrategic axis that also includes Turkey, historical “enemy” of Armenia, Israel, and Georgia. For that reason they want to disrupt that axis.
Another aspect of warm relations between Israel and Azerbaijan is currently evolving strategic partnership of both countries with Turkey and United States. By this cooperation, Azerbaijan and Turkey try to ensure the support of the Israel-American lobby for preventing the attempt of a small but powerful Armenian-American lobby to influence over the US foreign policy toward these countries.
During the visit of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in 1997 to Baku, the relations entered a new phase. Since that time Israel has been developing closer relations with Azerbaijan for modernizing the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan. Israeli military have been a major provider of battlefield aviation, artillery, antitank, and anti-infantry weapon to Azerbaijan.
After 9/11 terror attacks Azerbaijan took side with America as an ally against world terrorism. Since that event a new sphere of cooperation has emerged in security with the US. Azerbaijan has provided an air corridor for American military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and has joined the US led coalition in Iraq. These events also improved the Azerbaijan-Israel relations strategically, because Israel is one of the major partners of the US in the Middle East.
The Azerbaijan-Israel Friendship Society facilitates and promotes bilateral diplomatic and business links. After the creation of the relations, economic cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan has been growing significantly. Attempting to deregulate industry and to create free market and liberal economy, attracted Israeli companies to Azerbaijani markets. Many companies have invested in the service sector. Bakcell, which was started as a joint venture between Ministry of Communication of Azerbaijan and GTIB (Israel) in early 1994 as a first cellular telephone operator in the country, can be good example.
According to the President of the Azerbaijan-Israel Business Forum, many Israeli companies also operate in energy sector of Azerbaijan. For instance, an Israeli based supplier of high technology to the energy industry, mainly oil and gas field, Modcom System Ltd. opened an office in Azerbaijan in 2000. According to UN statistical analyses, the exports of Azerbaijan have increased from US$2 million to $323 million between 1997 and 2004. Israel was the largest importer of Azerbaijani oil after Italy in 2002. There is a growing covert collaboration in the energy sector between Azerbaijan and Israel.
On June 5, 2005, the 14th Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibition were opened in Baku. In his speech during the exhibition Arthur Lenk, Ambassador of Israel to Azerbaijan since April, 2005, talked about continuous trade between Azerbaijan and Israel in energy sector. “-Israel and Azerbaijan have close political and economical relations. The main thing is that Israel buys Azerbaijan’s oil through Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Interstate relations are also strengthening and the ministries of the two countries pay mutual visits. Azerbaijani Economic Development Minister Heydar Babayev visited Israel in February, chief of State Committee for Azerbaijanis Living Abroad Nazim Ibrahimov in April and Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov visited Israel two weeks ago. Israeli Foreign Ministry official Joseph Gal has also visited Azerbaijan recently. Deputies Prime Minister – Minister of Strategic Planning Avigdor Liberman and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz will visit Azerbaijan in the second half of this year. Our positions coincide in most strategic issues. I think that the relations between Azerbaijan and Israel are of strategic character”.
The Ambassador also mentioned that, Israel could be strategic partner for selling Caspian oil to Asia through Ashkelon-Eilat pipeline. “-Over the past year, discussions have begun examining the feasibility of a pipeline corridor-with the possibility of carrying oil and natural gas from Turkey to Israel. Such a plan, if carried out, would extend the position of Azerbaijan crude oil to the edge of the Indian Ocean”, he said.
All these statement show that, Israel is seeking for possibilities of importing gas from the Caspian Sea region, because it is surrendered with oil reach countries, but has no chance to get it. Due to partnership with Azerbaijan is significant for Israel.
Coming to the future of the relations between Azerbaijan and Israel, it is quite unclear. Because as I mentioned above Azerbaijan is a member of the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference), which created in 1969 in response to the defeat of Arab coalition in 1967 War (Six Day War) and one of main targetof the Organization was regaining of the holy lands, which was occupied by Israel after gaining its independence in 1947, with the UN Partition Plan (United Nation General Assembly Resolution 181).
Today, Arab World demanded withdrawing of Israel from the sacred places according to the United Nation Resolution 242 and 339 (According to these Resolution Israel has to withdraw till the 1947 borders). Azerbaijan also supports this plan in the favour of Arab World. Even in resent Israel Lebanon War Azerbaijan was one of the eight OIC states, which sent an ultimatum to Israel for stopping violent action in Lebanon. Azerbaijan also agreed to send peacekeeping forces to Lebanon.
Developing diplomatic relation with Israel will provoke Iran against Azerbaijan, in a period of escalation of Iran-America-Israel relation. That is a great threat for the security of Azerbaijan. Because Iran several times declared that, if the US declares war against us, the first target will be the US allies in the Middle East. Today the tension between America and Iran is very high, and Israel is one of the big supporters of America in this issue and the first target of Iran. Developing full diplomatic relations with Israel can damage the relations with one of the most important neighbours of Azerbaijan. For that reason balancing policy can be good diplomacy during this period.
But following all of these factors Azerbaijan has good economic and cultural relations with Israel. Even, according to Azerbaijani officials, Azerbaijan plans to open a trade office in Israel, which will represent the Azerbaijani government in Israel. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Foreign Minister Elmar Memmedyarov also added that “having full diplomatic relations will happen for sure”.
Israel investors are interested not only in the energy sector, but also in agriculture, Azerbaijan’s largest employer and second largest sector after oil. And Azerbaijan is a tolerant state, and ready to develop good relations with any country, as long as, these relations will not damage its security, national interests and also international prestige.