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Israel and Azerbaijan: The Odd Couple

It’s not easy being Israel.

While much of the world rejoiced at the removal of Egypt’s authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak, the world’s only Jewish state was understandably concerned about the instability of its most important ally in the region. Meanwhile, Israel’s other vital partnership in the Middle East, Turkey, has likewise soured in recent times. And as if that wasn’t enough, the personal relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama, never particularly warm to begin with, has cooled considerably in the past year.

Now, as tensions mount over the possibility of Iran imminently acquiring a nuclear capability, Israel needs all the allies it can get. Including, it seems, Azerbaijan.

Last month, The Economist ran a piece outlining the nature of this important, yet little understood, dynamic. Although Azerbaijan—now a member of the UN Security Council—regularly votes against Israeli interests, “Israelis say they mind more about what Azerbaijan does than what it says.” The Azeri president, for his part, has likened the relationship to an iceberg; what you see is hardly what you get.

Mutual distrust over Iran is at the core of this unlikely friendship between the world’s only Jewish state and a Shia Muslim one. But their interests extend beyond Tehran: Israel gets a third of its oil from Azerbaijan, and last March the two countries began a joint venture to manufacture drones. Israel’s recent $1.6 billion arms sale figures to bring the two countries even closer together.

The Turks don’t much like the friendship between Azerbaijan and Israel, but insofar as it is directed against Iran, they are probably OK with it.  And in any case, Turkey’s own close connections with the Azeris probably give them a fairly good window into what is going on.  It may even be that Turks and Israelis continue to cooperate on some of issues connected with the Iran file even as the broader relationship cools—and the Turks are probably happy that the Israelis, conscious of Azerbaijan’s difficult relationship with Armenia, aren’t pushing the Armenian genocide issue.

The Israel-Turkey-Iran-Azerbaijan quartet has kept Via Meadia on its toes recently; complex and changing relationships like these make international politics fascinating to watch and hard to predict.

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  • Richard

    The $1.6 Billion arms sale is almost entirely destined to be used against Armenians as Azerbaijan spends a huge percentage of its oil & gas revenues on a build-up of its armed forces.

  • Mrs. Davis

    This part of the world sounds more like the Balkans all the time.

  • Roy Lofquist

    Isn’t it amusing how doctrinal differences
    seem to matter less when the Barbarians are at the gate.

  • Cunctator

    Given the Obama administration’s appeasing of Iran, Israel has to look to its own interests in the region. And, if that means closer relations with unsavoury regimes, so be it.

    As more time passes, the utter bankruptcy of US policy under Obama becomes increasingly clear. US allies are abandoned and, worse, US security interests undermined. One can only wonder how bad the coming years will be — and pray that November does not lead to the president’s re-election.

  • ElamBend

    Israel has become quite active in the Caucasus. Recall that they provided the Georgians with quite a bit of tech (and some evidence says that it also recently supplied the Russians with info about that tech at a later date).
    In the future, look for Israel to become further engaged with Russia. Due to the immigration of the last 20 years, the Israeli population has stronger ties to Russia. Russia sees itself as the natural power in the Caucuses and finally, Russia is a possible new sponsor if things should go sideways between Israel and the US.
    As for Israeli strategy, they seem to be following the example of the Byzantines (at the times when Constantinople was but a city-state)

  • Howard

    Odd. I would expect that Israel and Armenia would be great friends. They are in similar situations: almost surrounded by hostile Muslim (not necessarily Islamist) neighbors, populations with a high level of scientific and cultural education (Armenia was part of the old Soviet science sun belt), touristic scenery, and wealthy active diasporas in the West. I should think Israel would be Armenia’s biggest sponsor.

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