Azerbaijan's Ambassador to Israel Mukhtar Mammadov (left) presents his credentials to Israeli President Isaac Herzog on March 26, 2023. Credit: Haim Zach/GPO. Haim Zach/GPO
Mukhtar Mammadov (left) presents credentials to Herzog

In March, Azerbaijan became the first Shi’ite Muslim nation to open an embassy and post an ambassador in Israel.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

Israeli President Isaac Herzog will embark on a state visit to Azerbaijan, a Shiite Muslim country bordering Iran, at the invitation of President Ilham Aliyev on May 30-31, Herzog’s office announced on Sunday.

Herzog will be accompanied by Minister of Health and Interior MK Moshe Arbel, who will engage in a working meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Dr. Timor Musayev.

The focus of their discussion will be on strengthening cooperation in the field of health, with an emphasis on doctor training, emergency assessments, and digital health initiatives.

A significant milestone during the visit will be the signing ceremony of a cooperation agreement in the health sector.

The President will lay a wreath at the grave of the late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev, who was also the father of the current president.

Herzog will also pay his respects at a cemetery dedicated to Azerbaijanis killed by the Soviet Army during the events of “Black January” as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, and to Azerbaijanis killed in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1988–1994.

Moreover, President Herzog and his wife will participate in a festive event commemorating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. This occasion will provide an opportunity to engage with the Jewish community in Azerbaijan while celebrating the milestone.

The trip comes on the heels of Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s visit in April.

In March, Azerbaijan became the first Shi’ite Muslim nation to open an embassy and post an ambassador in Israel when Ambassador Mukhtar Mamed Oglu presented his credentials to Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

A Signal to Iran

Professor Ze’ev Khanin, who lectures on political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the Tazpit Press Service that tensions between Azerbaijan and its southern neighbor, Iran, are the context of Herzog’s visit. The two countries share a 765 km border.

“Azerbaijan and Israel are strategic partners, and we have a common enemy, which is Iran,” Professor Khanin said.

Iran, he explained, has two strategic fears from Azerbaijan’s growing relationship with Israel.

First, Azerbaijan is a significant purchaser of Israeli arms, and Iran fears that Azerbaijan could serve as a platform for an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

The second reason, Khanin said, is the Iranian province called Southern Azerbaijan, which is home to 30 million ethnic Azeris. “That’s three times the size of Azerbaijan, and they are the biggest ethnic minority in Iran,” Professor Khanin explained.

“They used to have cultural and administrative autonomy, which they don’t have anymore. The ayatollahs are afraid that Baku is stimulating and supporting the separatist movements, at least morally,” he said, adding, “But Iran also supports radical Islamic separatists in Azerbaijan.”

Professor Khanin stressed that Herzog’s visit also sends a more positive signal to another regional player: Turkey. Azerbaijanis are ethnically Turks, and Baku mediated between Jerusalem and Ankara last year under the previous Israeli government. “This helped lead to the relaxation of tensions” between Israel and Turkey,” Khanin said.

“Turkey is much less interested in being anti-Israeli and scoring points with the Arab world,” he expressed.

Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Azerbaijani independence in 1991 and already has an embassy in Baku. An estimated 20,000 Jews live in Azerbaijan today.

Do You Love Israel? Make a Donation - Show Your Support!

Donate to vital charities that help protect Israeli citizens and inspire millions around the world to support Israel too!

Now more than ever, Israel needs your help to fight and win the war -- including on the battlefield of public opinion.

Antisemitism, anti-Israel bias and boycotts are out of control. Israel's enemies are inciting terror and violence against innocent Israelis and Jews around the world. Help us fight back!