The Ties Between Israel And Azerbaijan
by: Alexander Murinson (The Begin-Sadat Center For Strategic Studies) | Published: October 2014
Baku Oil is Rothschild Oil!
After gaining independence in 1991, Azerbaijan emerged as one of Israel’s closest friends in the Muslim world. Furthermore, Azerbaijan arose as the key pillar of Israeli cooperation in the South Caucasus and the geopolitical isthmus which allowed for the realization of the vision of a new “Turkic world” commonwealth that would prevent the Iranian penetration of Central Asia.
Since its establishment, Israel always sought allies among Muslim nations, in order to buttress its international legitimacy and to dilute the religious dimension in the Arab-Israeli conflict. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel’s foreign policy options expanded. Israel made a decision to engage in deeper relationships with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, in particular with Azerbaijan. After its independence, Azerbaijan chose Turkey as its strategic partner. Consequently, this Turkish-Azerbaijani axis had a significant impact on Israel’s relationship with Azerbaijan, with the three countries sharing similar security threats and geo-strategic perceptions.1 However, since the deterioration in the Israeli-Turkish partnership, particularly after the Mavi Marmara incident on May 31, 2010, the importance of a relationship with such an energy-rich and strategically-located country as Azerbaijan has become more important for Israeli foreign policy. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, quipped during his visit to Baku in April 2012: “Azerbaijan is more important for Israel than France.” 2
The end of the Cold War was an important factor that contributed to the formation of the Israeli-Azerbaijani entente. The memory of the historic good ties between the Jewish Community and the Azerbaijani majority was an important psychological element that added legitimacy and continuity to the upgraded Israeli-Azerbaijani relations. 3
In the aftermath of the Cold War, the Arab anti-Western forces were weakened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, their main backer. While the United States was engaged in a re-assessment of its strategic position in the neighborhood, Israel needed to find a new role in the quickly-changing geopolitical landscape and to re-affirm its alliance with the United States and other Western countries. One of the challenges for the West was to ensure that a new geopolitical vacuum in the southern periphery of Russia would not be filled with radical Islamic tendencies emanating from the Islamic Republic of Iran, or be re-absorbed into a revamped Russian Empire. The Israeli leadership communicated to America that it was willing to engage with the post-Soviet states and to provide development, and if necessary military aid, to smoothen the transition into a new regional order, free from Russian control.
Seeking partners in the Caucasus region, the Jewish state found a willing partner in the Republic of Azerbaijan, a small, pro-Western, secular new state perched between two former Imperial masters (Russia and Persia). Azerbaijan was also desperate and intent upon breaking out of its diplomatic isolation, an atavistic survival of pro-Armenian sympathies among the majority of Western Christian nations. Israel extended its recognition of the republic of Azerbaijan on December 25, 1991.4 Diplomatic relations between the two states were established on April 6, 1992, when Azerbaijan was involved in a bloody conflict over the fate of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. In April 1993, in response to the Armenian occupation of Azeri lands, Turkey closed its border with Armenia. Israel supported the Azeri side in this conflict by supplying Stinger missiles to Azerbaijani troops during the war.5 Thus Azerbaijan, seeking to enhance its deterrence, joined the entente between the two regional powers, Israel and Turkey.
Over the last twenty years, the relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel has developed and changed. Nonetheless, the core common “realist” interests persist, namely balancing Russia and Iran as the main challengers to Western interests in the region, and preventing the realization of the revanchist imperial policies vis-à-vis Azerbaijan, which boosts the value of both countries in the eyes of the West and the US in particular. There are several other strategic factors that have kept Israel and Azerbaijan together for more than twenty years. One factor is an Israeli interest in receiving reliable oil supplies from the Caspian region, where Azerbaijan functions not only as an important supplier of oil to the West and Israel, but also as an important transportation link. With the implementation of an international energy project, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, Azerbaijan has become a significant oil and gas producer and the share of Azerbaijani oil shipped to Israel has steadily increased. The BP-operated pipeline, which began exporting in July 2006, has a capacity of 1.0 million bbl/d. For Israel, the oil transported via the BTC is strategically important. Since 2009, when BTC reached its full capacity, the share of Azerbaijani oil shipped to Israel has steadily increased.6
Another strategic factor is the role Israel serves as one of the important suppliers of advanced weapon systems to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan also needs Israel’s support in harnessing the American Jewish lobby in the US Congress to promote a friendly foreign policy towards Azerbaijan.
This paper attempts to answer the following questions: Why did these two countries form an entente in the aftermath of the Cold War? What were the core commonalities and strategic perceptions that brought these countries together? Which security needs are fulfilled by this entente?
Initially, this paper defines key terms, presents the core argument and discusses the roots of the alliance. Subsequently, the paper explains the concept of the Periphery Alliance and Israel’s framing of its foreign policy towards Azerbaijan after the Cold War. It also describes the American dimensions in the bilateral relations and the role ethnic communities, specifically the Jewish lobby in the United States, came to play in this entente. The impact of Turkey and Israel on shifting the geopolitical landscape after the 2008 War in the South Caucasus will also be discussed. The last section will deal with the military and security ties. The conclusion provides an assessment of possible developments in this bilateral relationship.
1 Alexander Murinson, Turkey’s Entente with Israel and Azerbaijan: State Identity and Security in the Middle East and Caucasus (Routledge, 2010), see Chapter 2 ⇑
3 See details Alexander Murinson, “Jews in Azerbaijan: a History Spanning Three Millennia,” Visions of Azerbaijan, Spring 2008, Volume 3.2, pp.58-64;source: http://www.visions.az/history,112/; Sarah Marcus, “Mountain Jews,” Tablet, August 26,2010, source: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/42649/mountain-jews; Alexander Murinson, “Azerbaijani-Jewish Relations: Realpolitik embedded in history,” The Caucasus & Globalization, No.2, Vol.2, 2008, source: http://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/azerbaijani-jewish-relations-realpolitik-embedded-in-history ⇑
4 According to the document of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, “Azerbaijan-Israel relations,” source: http://mfa.gov.az/files/file/Azerbaijan%20-%20Israel.pdf ⇑
5 Soner Cagaptay and Alexander Murinson,“Good Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel: A Model for Other Muslim States in Eurasia?” in Policy Watch no.982, The Washington Institute for the Near East Policy (co-author Soner Cagaptay), March 30, 2005. See also Pierre Rousselin, Le Figaro, November 17 1992, Jerusalem Report, February 24, 1994 ⇑
6 Interview with Rauf Mammadov, Director at SOCAR USA Office, June 26, 2014 ⇑
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