- By Mohamad Bdeir, Al Akhbar
Since its early days, Israel has followed a strategy of courting alliances with neighboring non-Arab states. As such, Azerbaijan is fast becoming a key ally of the Zionist state.
Early last year, media reports revealed a massive $1.6 billion weapons deal between Azerbaijan and Israel, considered one of the largest sales in Israel’s history.
At the time, then head of the Mossad, Danny Yatom, openly encouraged the sale of weapons “to countries that are friendly to us in order to better confront Iran.”
In addition to selling weapons and containing Iran, Israel is also interested in Azerbaijan’s oil, which today constitutes 40 percent of its consumption, with plans for a pipeline connecting the two countries by way of the southeastern Turkish city of Ceyhan.
The relationship between Israel and Iran’s northern neighbor goes back over two decades, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. At that time, nearly 100,000 Azeri Jews emigrated to Israel, prompting Tel Aviv to quickly find ways to develop strong ties with this strategic country.
For its part, Baku calculated that it too can benefit from such a relationship in two key areas: Israeli technology, particularly in defense and agriculture; and the support of the Zionist lobby in Washington to counterbalance Armenian influence on the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
A few days ago, the Israeli daily Haaretz published a report from Baku that quoted a presidential advisor as saying that in his government’s view, “Iran is the problem, and not Israel…Tehran doesn’t like our cooperation with Israel,” adding that there is “a large number of Israelis of Azeri origin with whom we continue to work.”
The report makes it clear that many in Baku are more than willing to sacrifice their relationship with Iran in favor of closer ties to Israel.
The newspaper, for example, quotes an Azerbaijani MP as follows: “There are a lot Jewish friends of Azerbaijan, and they are helping us in Washington,” noting that “Muslim Azerbaijan supports Israel, while Christian Armenia supports Iran.”
Oil also figures large in the growing relationship between the two countries, as Azerbaijan has become Tel Aviv’s largest oil supplier.
Before the Islamic revolution, Iran was Israel’s key source of oil. After the fall of the Shah, Tel Aviv turned to Mexico for three decades to supply it with more expensive oil, given the distance between the two countries.
As ties with Baku improved, Azerbaijan quickly became Israel’s main oil supplier through a pipeline that runs through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
According to Haaretz, Turkey reaps sizeable financial benefits from this route – a key factor in sustaining Israeli-Turkish economic ties, despite diplomatic tensions between the two countries since the Mavi Marmara massacre in 2010.
In this vein, the Haaretz report reveals that for some time now Baku has invested quite a bit of diplomatic effort in bridging the differences between its two close allies, Turkey and Israel, but with little success so far, given the hardline stance of former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.