Liberman’s visit signals strengthening relations between Israel and Azerbaijan

A delegation led by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrived for an official visit to the Republic of Azerbaijan on September 13.

In the capital, Baku, Lieberman held meetings with the military and political leadership of this largest south Caucasus country. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received the delegation, hailing the enhancement of relations in economic, military, cultural, and tourism fields was hailed at the meeting. The sides expressed their hope that the visit would contribute to expansion of bilateral cooperation.

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Liberman also met with Prime Minister Novruz Mammadov, Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and other top figures, discussing aspects of regional security and prospects for cooperation; partnership in the political, military, military-technical spheres; and other issues of interest. In difficult times, these countries have always stood together, providing mutual support.

Much of the credit for the increasing warmth of the bond goes to Liberman, whose foreign policy strategy helped turn post-Soviet turned Azerbaijan into a strategic partner of the State of Israel. Lieberman realized the strategic and geopolitical importance of Azerbaijan in the region.

Located in the southern Caucasus, Azerbaijan is in a complex “geopolitical sandwich,” where unpredictable geopolitical actors such as Russia, Turkey and Iran are located. Despite the geopolitical labyrinth of the region, Azerbaijan successfully pursues its multi-vector foreign policy and manages to maintain stability.

A pragmatist who staunchly defends his nation’s interests, Lieberman seeks genuine friends of Israel and his interest in the region is justified. This is his first official visit Azerbaijan as defense minister and his warm and sincere interactions further the goal of strengthening relations.

Flourishing Azerbaijani-Israeli annual trade amounts to nearly $4.5 billion. Previously focused on the oil and gas industry, it is now expanding to other segments of the economy, including agriculture, hi tech, healthcare, technical-military and intelligence cooperation. Israel is one of the main buyers of Azerbaijani oil.

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In the Azerbaijan-Armenia flare-up of April 2016, Azerbaijan broke through the Armenian defense line in multiple places and liberated several strategic heights and inhabited places. As a result, anti-Israeli hysteria and antisemitism grew in Armenia, as Israel is a key weapons supplier to Azerbaijan. Even the Armenian community in Israel held rallies protesting the Azerbaijani-Israeli partnership.

To Armenia’s criticism, I would respond that Azerbaijan and Israel are entitled choose their friends and partners; the countries themselves determine the level of strategic cooperation in the military-technical field. No one has the right to interfere. Moreover, Armenia has neither an independent defense strategy nor a strong military procurement policy. Lacking the financial means to make significant defense procurement contracts with Israeli or other companies, Armenia acquires subsidized and donated Russian military equipment and technology. Isolated in the south Caucasus region, Armenia, due in part to its occupation of some Azerbaijani lands, has remained largely excluded from key geopolitical and geo-economic projects associated with the gas and oil resources of the Caspian Sea.

Concerning the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Azerbaijan Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov stated, “We must and will restore our territorial integrity. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be resolved within the framework of international law and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We are strengthening our army and will take the necessary action at any time. Azerbaijan will liberate its lands by force. For more than 26 years, our lands have been under occupation and peace talks have not produced any results. The enemy must unequivocally understand that we will never reconcile with the occupation of our lands.”

Azerbaijan has a partnership with its 25,000-strong Jewish community. Under the patronage of Aliyev, two synagogues and the largest Jewish educational center in the South Caucasus have been built. Plans are in place for the first Azerbaijani Jewish museum, which will be the first Jewish museum in the South Caucasus.

The ancient village of Qimizi Qesebe in northern Azerbaijan, with more than 3,500 residents, is the only known all-Jewish village outside of Israel, a point of pride for Azerbaijanis. Aliyev has earned the respect of a wide swath of Israeli society for his dedication to the Jews of Azerbaijan. The relationships between Israel and Azerbaijan, and Muslim Azerbaijanis and Azerbaijani Jews, cannot be explained away as simple mutual self-interest. Common values and a shared history permeate the modern relationship. The two countries are enriched by the human connections between them and a determination to maintain diverse and religiously tolerant societies.

Azerbaijan is an exemplar of tolerance and mutual respect. It’s 2,600-year-old positive attitude toward Jews further strengthens the sympathy and admiration for the country.

The State of Israel supports Azerbaijan and calls for a resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict respecting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Lieberman’s visit opened a new page in strengthening and deepening relations between the countries and peoples.
The writer is a political analyst.

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