Photo by Yosef Mizrahi/TPS on 18 April, 2023

What Does Azerbaijan Want as It Expands Ties With Israel?

Public By Pesach Benson • 18 April, 2023

Jerusalem, 18 April, 2023 (TPS) -- Following up on the recent opening of Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tel Aviv, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen departed for a state visit to the Central Asian country on Monday.

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.

In Baku, Cohen is expected to meet with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeyhun Bayramov and Minister of Economy Mikayil Jabbarov to discuss strengthening relations in the areas of security, the economy, energy, education, academia, culture and sports and more.

Cohen is also leading a delegation of businessmen from 20 Israeli companies in the fields of cyber security, homeland security, water management and agriculture. The delegation will hold dozens of meetings with companies and government organizations in Azerbaijan.

Professor Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University told the Tazpit Press Service that Israeli-Azerbaijani relations focus mostly on security cooperation and Iran.

“Azerbaijan is a Shi’ite Muslim country, but it’s secular. That’s why they don’t like Iran. The relationship is an important and strategic asset to Israel,” Zisser told TPS.

“Israel provides weapons to Azerbaijan. These weapons helped Azerbaijan confront Armenia several years ago,” Zisser explained. “The cooperation was there for years, but it’s becoming more public now.”

Azerbaijan shares a border with Iran and relations between the two countries are tense. On Jan. 27, a gunman attacked the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran, killing the embassy’s security chief and injuring two others. Baku blames Iran for the attack.

Iran has accused Azerbaijan of maintaining a secret military alliance with Israel and allowing Israeli soldiers to be stationed along the 765 km border.

Asked about the possibility of Azerbaijan following in Saudi Arabia’s footsteps and reconciling with Iran, Zisser was dismissive.

“Do you really believe its reconciliation with the Saudis? It’s going to be a continuation of their rivalry,” he said. “This is how it goes in the Mideast. The Saudis know who their enemies are.”

In response to a question about how Russia views Israeli-Azerbaijani relations — Azerbaijan shares a border with Russia — Zisser wasn’t concerned about Moscow.

“As long as it doesn’t harm Russian interests, they don’t care,” Zisser told TPS. “Its’ their immediate neighborhood, but I don’t think at this point they care.”

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.