In a world where there are increased tensions between Muslims and Jews, Azerbaijan remains a steadfast friend of the Jewish state.
Azerbaijan, a small country with a Shiite Muslim majority which borders the Islamic Republic of Iran, has proven itself to be a a friendly ally to the State of Israel and the west in general. Indeed, Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has expressed satisfaction with the fomenting of Israeli-Azerbaijani relations. Mammadyarov claimed that his country which is located between Iran and Russia, and which presently has a gigantic territorial dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani land, is “not an easy neighborhood.” Nevertheless, he sees a “huge opportunity” to expand Azerbaijani-Israeli relations.
Azerbaijan has enjoyed a close relationship with the State of Israel since the country secured its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Examples of flourishing ties between the two countries include Azerbaijan supplying Israel with 40 percent of her oil supply, the existence of trade relations that consist of over $4 billion, and Israel providing agricultural and technological assistance to Azerbaijan. Furthermore, a vibrant Jewish community has existed peacefully within Azerbaijan for the last 1,500 years, consisting of both Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Persecution was unknown to the Jewish community of Azerbaijan, which also served as a safe haven for Jews fleeing from the Holocaust. This all helps reinforce the strong relations between the two countries.
As can be expected, Iran is opposing to a strong Azerbaijani-Israeli relationship and at times they have expressed their opposition violently. Nevertheless, this has not stopped Azerbaijan from forming a close relationship with the State of Israel. Indeed, concerns regarding the Iranian government are something that both the Israeli and Azerbaijani governments share, since Azerbaijan supports the west in the War against Terrorism. In fact, after the September 11 terror attacks, Azerbaijan was the first country to open up its skies to the United States and continues to permit American planes flying to Afghanistan to refuel within their country.
The common Iranian threat feared by both Israel and Azerbaijan, along with Israel’s support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has also helped to strengthen relations. As former Israeli Ambassador to Turkey, Pinhas Avivi, once stated, “Our position is the following: We recognize the principle of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. We don’t try to hide the fact that our relations with Azerbaijan are more intense and rewarding than our relations with Armenia and that relations with Azerbaijan are strategically important for us.” He continued, “We have common goals. We understand Azerbaijan’s concern with its Iranian neighbor better than anyone, and that’s a good ground for rapprochement.”
By Rachel Avraham