Israel and Azerbaijan's Furtive Embrace

by Ilya Bourtman

The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 changed the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. Within weeks, six predominantly Muslim countries along the southern rim of the Soviet Union gained independence. Israel, along with Turkey, Iran, and various Arab states, rushed to establish embassies in capitals ranging from Ashgabat to Tashkent. While Jerusalem maintains good working relations with these newly independent states, few could have foreseen how Israel's relationship with Azerbaijan would blossom. The two countries formally established relations in April 1992, one year after Azerbaijan declared its independence. The idea that a country 93 percent Muslim would cooperate closely with Israeli intelligence, and even provide Israeli officials a defensive platform in such a volatile region, was hardly considered. Yet, Jerusalem and Baku have quietly become strategic partners—sharing intelligence, developing trade relations, and together building regional alliances. Although the Israel-Azerbaijan partnership has had important regional implications, uncertainty remains how far Azerbaijani elites are willing to pursue ties.

 

A Convergence of Interests

While the mutual relationship has not been a priority for either Israel or Azerbaijan, both Jerusalem and Baku have expanded their ties in response to the realization that policy coordination best protects Caspian security and counters Iranian expansionism. Both Israel and Azerbaijan face challenges to their legitimacy if not their very existence. Both share a sense of trial by fire after winning independence only after a territorial war with neighbors. While Israel had to face down five invading Arab armies upon its independence and remains in a technical state of war with Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, Azerbaijan remains embroiled in a decade-long military conflict with Armenia over the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani territory occupied by an Armenian army. Indeed, unproven rumors persist in the Arabic-language press and pro-Saudi journals suggesting Israeli arms exports to Azerbaijan may have even preceded formal Azerbaijani independence.[1]

Insecurity complexes born of war and siege cause both Jerusalem and Baku to see the region through similar prisms. Both countries grapple with identity problems: how can Azerbaijan be "the Azeri state" when close to 20 million Azeris—almost twice its population—live in neighboring Iran? Indeed, Iranian Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khamene‘i is an ethnic Azeri. Israel, meanwhile, grapples both to define its relationship to the Jewish diaspora and to its own sizable Arab minority.

The Israeli government reached out to Azerbaijan for a number of reasons. Israeli policymakers, like their Arab and Iranian counterparts, viewed Azerbaijan and the Caspian littoral as part of the "Greater Middle East."[2] Expanding its influence into an area of the world heavily Muslim but not Arab has long been a strategic Israeli objective. After all, prior to the revolution in 1979, Israel had sold weapons to the Iranian army and considered the shah a friend. Similarly, since the early 1990s, Israel has reached out to Turkey. New allies could also lead to new economic opportunities, greater energy security, and, it was hoped, extra U.N. votes.[3] Israel aimed to exploit the region's energy resources by lobbying for the development of gas and oil pipelines that would help its allies and circumvent its foes. Finally, Israeli officials hoped that direct ties would facilitate the immigration of Azerbaijan's 20,000-strong Jewish community to Israel.[4]

The Azerbaijani government, meanwhile, found itself cooperating with Israel both out of respect for the Jewish state[5] and because of lack of an alternative. In 1991, Azerbaijan was economically fragile, politically unstable, and militarily weak. Desperate for outside assistance, Baku turned to Israel to provide leverage against a much stronger Iran and a militarily superior Armenia. Israel promised to improve Azerbaijan's weak economy by developing trade ties.[6] It purchased Azerbaijani oil and gas and sent medical, technological, and agricultural experts. Most importantly for Azerbaijan, Israel's foreign ministry vowed to lend its lobby's weight in Washington to improve Azeri-American relations, providing a counterweight to the influential Armenian lobby. According to Azerbaijan's first president, Abulfas Elçibey, "Israel could help Azerbaijan in [the] Karabakh problem by convincing the Americans to stop the Armenians."[7] Azerbaijani diplomats recognized the need to diversify their contacts in Washington, especially after the U.S. Congress imposed sanctions on Azerbaijan at the behest of the Armenian lobby following the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijani military officials also believed that Israeli firms could better equip the ragtag Azerbaijani army, which needed new weapons following its defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh. On several occasions, Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan's president between 1993 and 2003, personally requested military assistance from Israeli prime ministers.[8]

A Maturing Relationship

With Armenian troops and their proxies occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory, the influence of Moscow and Tehran growing, and Islamist groups gaining strength in the region, Israel and Azerbaijan built up their mutual defense capabilities.

Following its loss in Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku reached out to Israel for help in rebuilding its military. Israeli defense firms obliged, selling Azerbaijan advanced aviation, antitank, artillery, and anti-infantry weapon systems.[9] The arms trade has continued. In 2004, the Azerbaijani and Israeli press both reported that an undisclosed Israeli weapons system was being sent to Turkey where it would be assembled and then delivered to Azerbaijan.[10] While Israeli, Turkish, and Azerbaijani officials denied the report—Israeli policy prohibits confirmation of such deals—an Azerbaijani military official defended the purchase, saying "our country's interest in Israeli weapons is natural as this country possesses up-to-date types of weapons, military hardware, and special equipment."[11] Not every report is true, however. Seeking to exploit Islamist and anti-Israel sentiment among some segments of the population, neighboring states on occasion exaggerate the Israel-Azerbaijan arms trade.[12]

Weapons sales and shared-threat perception have smoothed intelligence and security cooperation. Israeli firms built and guard the fence around Baku's international airport, monitor and help protect Azerbaijan's energy infrastructure, and even provide security for Azerbaijan's president on his foreign visits.[13] Israeli intelligence operatives help collect human intelligence about extremist Islamist organizations in the region and monitor the troop deployments of Azerbaijan's neighbors—especially Iran.[14] In a Washington Institute for Near East Policy analysis, analysts Soner Cagaptay and Alexander Murinson alluded to reports that Israeli intelligence maintains listening posts along the Azerbaijani border with Iran.[15]

Both the Israeli and Azerbaijani governments fear the growth of radical Islam. Following an October 2001 meeting with Israeli ambassador Eitan Naeh, Azerbaijan's former president Heydar Aliyev declared their positions in the fight against international terrorism to be identical.[16] While the terrorist threat to Israel is well known, Azerbaijan's terrorist challenge is also significant. Azerbaijan is in the cross hairs of both Sunni and Shi‘ite Islamists. Among the Sunnis, there is the spillover from the Chechen and Daghestani conflicts. Since the 1994 signing of the "Genuine Islam for Brothers" agreement between regional Wahhabi organizations, and in the wake of a southern expansion by Wahhabi movements in the Russian Federation, Islamist cells have sprung up around the country.[17] According to Axis Information and Analysis, a watchdog of security developments in Eurasia, as of July 2005, roughly 15,000 Wahhabi activists were operating in Baku.[18] Supporters of Chechen militants operate a lucrative arms trade along Azerbaijan's porous 175-mile (284 kilometer) border with Russia. Groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seek both Israel's annihilation and the replacement of regional nation-states with an Islamic caliphate, threaten both Jerusalem and Baku. Hizb ut-Tahrir is suspected of having several hundred members in Azerbaijan; dozens have been arrested.[19] Tadeusz Swietochowski, professor emeritus of history at Monmouth University and an expert on Azerbaijan, worries that Wahhabi organizations may find a breeding ground in Azerbaijan. "There is a vast potential for disaffection among the impoverished masses, including the Karabakh war refugees, to whom the benefits from oil wealth do not filter down through the more privileged elites, who are perceived as corrupt unbelievers,"[20] he argued. The sheer number of small terrorist networks setting up shop around Azerbaijan forced the Azerbaijan Ministry of National Security to respond in August 2005 by arresting suspects, placing mosques under direct government control, and banning extremist religious literature.[21] Israeli officials, for their part, worry about the recent spike in violence by radical Islamists against Jewish communities in Azerbaijan.[22]

Iran, the benefactor of numerous terrorist organizations operating in the region,[23] has sought to promote its radical ideology by funding and building mosques and religious schools in the region. Thus far, Azerbaijani officials have responded to this encroachment of their space by outlawing radical imams and mosques. Indeed, while reports of Israeli intelligence presence remain shadowy and imprecise, failure of Baku and Jerusalem to work together to counter Iranian ideological expansionism would be irresponsible.

Trade

Economic cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan has grown significantly. As early as 1995, an Israeli journalist visiting Baku observed that Israeli goods were flooding the market. "Strauss ice cream, cell phones produced by Motorola's Israeli division, Maccabee beer, and other Israeli imports are ubiquitous," she wrote.[24] As Azerbaijan deregulated its industries and liberalized some markets, Israeli companies flocked to the country. Bezeq, a major telephone subsidiary, was one of the first to do so. Through a devalued contract bid in 1994, Bezeq bought a large share of the telephone operating system. Today it installs phone lines and operates regional services throughout much of the country.[25] According to the president of the Azerbaijani-Israeli Business Forum, dozens of Israeli companies operate in Azerbaijan, especially within the energy sector.[26] In 2000 for example, Modcon Systems Ltd., an Israel-based supplier of high technology to the oil and gas industries, opened shop in Azerbaijan. "The business," according to Modcon Systems CEO Gregory Shahnovsky, is "very important to company growth." He expects more Israeli companies to enter the market.[27]

Statistics support the anecdotes. Between 2000 and 2005, Israel has gone from being Azerbaijan's tenth largest trading partner to its fifth.[28] Azerbaijani industry has benefited tremendously. According to U.N. statistics, between 1997 and 2004, exports from Azerbaijan to Israel increased from barely over US$2 million to $323 million, fueled in recent years by the high price of oil.[29] Indeed, Israeli-Azerbaijani trade now outweighs the trade relations Israel has developed with the countries of Central Asia by at least a factor of five.[30]

Indirectly, Israeli businessmen have helped encourage Azerbaijan to pursue policies of strategic benefit to Jerusalem. Since 1993, major Israeli entrepreneurs such as Shoul Eisenberg have spearheaded large-scale energy projects in the Caspian region and Central Asia with government support. Israeli businessman Yossi Maimon, for example, was instrumental in brokering gas pipeline deals throughout Central Asia, such as the March 1999 $2.5 billion pipeline deal from Turkmenistan to Turkey. He boasted to The Wall Street Journal in 2001 that "this is the Great Game all over [again] … we are doing what U.S. and Israeli policy could not achieve. Controlling the transport route is controlling the product."[31] Israeli strategic thinkers expected that establishing friendly ties to Azerbaijan would not only provide energy security but also allow Jerusalem to influence pipeline routes, a benefit both to Israeli political clout and a factor to strengthen Israel's allies at the expense of its adversaries. In 2002, Israel was Azerbaijan's largest importer of oil after Italy.[32]

The ultimate route of the $3.2 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, for example, circumvents Iran and Russia and ties secular, pro-Western Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey together in a way that enhances Israel's strategic interests, an aspect acknowledged by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1997[33] and recognized in Azerbaijan as well.[34] Rafael Abbasov, former director of economic and trade development at the Israeli embassy in Baku and now an economics officer at the Asian Development Bank in Azerbaijan, believes that there is growing covert collaboration in the energy sector between Israel and Azerbaijan which does not show up on trade-balance sheets. "In terms of oil, Israeli firms are a lot more involved than at first meets the eye," Abbasov said. "Often they register as U.S. or U.K. branches and thus enter the Azerbaijani energy market and participate in bidding for tender contracts."[35]

As the Indian and Chinese appetites for oil increase, so too does the possibility to expand cooperation further with the export of oil through the Ashqelon-Eilat pipeline which could provide an alternative to shipments through the Suez Canal and Persian Gulf.[36]

Politics

While trade has increased steadily, political cooperation has ebbed and flowed. Mutual statements of diplomatic understanding have seldom been followed by decisive action. Little came from the April 1992 agreement to exchange ambassadors. For several years, Benny Haddad, a 24-year-old Israeli Defense Forces rifleman with no diplomatic experience represented Israeli interests in Azerbaijan. Only later was Eliezer Yotvat, Israel's first ambassador to Azerbaijan, formally appointed. Baku meanwhile made overtures toward Jerusalem by appealing to Jewish investors and publicly sending state foreign policy advisor Vafa Guluzade to Israel, but Baku did not nominate a permanent ambassador. To date, Azerbaijan has not yet fulfilled its promise to open an embassy in Israel. Likewise, nothing came of Azerbaijani secretary of state Ali Karimov's public attempt to organize a meeting between Elçibey and then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.[37]

The only public embrace came in August 1997 when Israeli prime minister Netanyahu visited Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev in Baku. During their brief meeting, they discussed various issues ranging from new oil deals, to Iran's nuclear ambitions, to trilateral cooperation between Israel, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.[38] While the meeting solidified strategic understanding and led to increased defense cooperation, it had few positive diplomatic consequences. After fifteen years of diplomatic relations, the two countries have not signed a single official treaty. As one senior Israeli diplomat laments, "There is no formalization of these relationships. Not even a cultural agreement, or tourism … Formal relations have not yet yielded one single agreement between the two states."[39]

Perhaps the only successful diplomatic initiatives have been in youth exchanges. In 2003, Jerusalem and Baku agreed to facilitate study opportunities for Azerbaijani scientists and doctors in Israel.[40] The Azerbaijan-Israel Youth Friendship Society works to promote youth relations through the teaching of each others' histories. Kanan Seyidov, the society's deputy chief of international relations, explained that the program works to explain "the real situation of Israeli people living under the everyday terror threat, and the impact of Armenian aggression and occupation on Azerbaijan."[41]

The New Great Game

Nevertheless, both Jerusalem and Baku recognize that they are better off working with each other (and Turkey) than allowing Russian or Iranian influence to become paramount. Even as diplomatic relations remain less formal, Azerbaijan's neighbors recognize the growing importance of Israel-Azerbaijan ties.

Iran. At the heart of Azerbaijan-Israel cooperation lie their mutual fear and distrust of Iran. Israel has obvious reasons for distrusting the Islamic Republic: Iranian leaders from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to former presidents ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami to current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have all called for Israel's destruction.[42] Azerbaijan has a more complicated relationship with Iran. On the one hand, Azerbaijan shares historic ties and a religious bond with predominantly Shi‘ite Iran. Far more ethnic Azeris live in Iran than in independent Azerbaijan. But Tehran has sought to destabilize Azerbaijan. It has engaged in arms trafficking with Armenian separatists[43] and trained Azeri mullahs to preach an Islamist message that has undercut traditional Azerbaijani secularism.[44] Tehran gave little support to their Shi‘ite brethren in the early 1990s when Azerbaijan's economy plummeted 58 percent.[45] Competing claims to energy deposits in the Caspian Sea have also harmed relations.

Today, Iran and Israel play a cat-and-mouse game in Azerbaijan. Both have developed vast espionage networks in Azerbaijan. Israeli intelligence maintains surveillance and listening outposts on Azerbaijan's border with Iran.[46] Published articles attest that "Baku is a perfect base for Israeli intelligence operations … the city is home to an Iranian embassy with 200 employees."[47] One senior advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon even suggested that some Azerbaijani Jews regularly infiltrate Iranian territory.[48] Iran has followed suit, spying on Israeli targets in Azerbaijan. In September 2004, Israeli security agents caught an Iranian operative videotaping the Israeli embassy in Baku.[49]

Iran has vowed to exact revenge on Azerbaijan for its cooperation with the "Zionist entity" and for following Israel and Turkey westward after its 1991 independence. Following Netanyahu's 1997 visit, Iran's state radio harshly criticized the meeting, declaring that "Baku is playing a dangerous game by receiving the Zionist regime's expansionist prime minister. By doing this it has destabilized its own ties with Islamic states in the region and the world."[50] The Iranian foreign minister further threatened Azerbaijan saying that Baku's cooperation with Israel would cause instability in the Caucasus, harm Islamic unity, and hurt "those governments themselves."[51] To this day, Iranian officials are cited in the Iranian press stating that Azerbaijan is cooperating with an "occupying power."[52]

Russia. Another area of mutual cooperation is shared suspicion of Russian intentions. Both Jerusalem and Baku distrust Moscow's penchant for pursuing two-track policies that undermine regional security. The Israeli government, for example, distrusts the Russian sale of nuclear technology to Iran, arms to Syria, and legitimization of Hamas and Hezbollah. The Azerbaijani government is meanwhile worried about Russian bases in Ossetia and Abkhazia and Moscow's support for Armenian guerillas in Nagorno-Karabakh.[53] Russian cooperation with Iran reinforces to Israeli and Azerbaijani strategic thinkers that they must rely on each other.[54] The same dynamic has also strengthened relations between Azerbaijan and Israel on one hand, and Georgia on the other.[55]

Some Russian nationalists are displeased that Israel is intruding on a region they believe part of their own sphere of influence. A 1998 article by Vitaliy Demin in the Russian newspaper Zavtra—generally recognized as an anti-Semitic newspaper—accused Israel of becoming to Russia what Cuba is to the United States. He also blamed Israel for seeking to exploit regional energy resources.[56] Some of this resentment stems from opposition to pipeline routes that bypass Russian territory.

Persian Gulf states. The Azerbaijan-Israel relationship has successfully shut out the influence of Persian Gulf states in the Caspian. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the Persian Gulf emirates have substantial trade with Azerbaijan. In 2004, none of the Persian Gulf states made the top twenty-five of Azerbaijan's trade partners.[57] In the early 1990s, Saudi Arabia used its Islamic Development Bank to provide Baku with loans and credits, but that money has dried-up in recent years.[58] Riyadh seldom invests in countries if they do not tow an increasingly Islamist line. Saudi ideologues would much rather fund a government like Turkey's which seeks to erode secular protections than one like Baku's which has worked to preserve them. That none of the Persian Gulf states supply Azerbaijan with weapons or have long-standing relations with Baku's defense establishment limits their reach in the region. According to analyst Anoushiravan Ehteshami, Saudi Arabia, the most active of all the Persian Gulf states in the Caspian region, plays no more than an "indirect role … in countering Israeli expanding influence in Central Asia."[59] If oil-rich Azerbaijan is successful in cultivating an independent energy relationship with Israel and the West, then the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in general and the Persian Gulf emirates in particular may lose influence. It is certainly a glaring reality that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with real influence in the region.[60]

Turkey. Among regional countries, Turkey has benefited most from the development of Azerbaijani-Israeli cooperation. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, Turkish officials began wooing Azerbaijani politicians—stressing their shared ethnicity, language, and Armenian experiences.[61] Ankara has encouraged the development of a secular, free market government in Baku oriented to Europe and the West. In 2004, official Turkish-Azerbaijani trade amounted to slightly over US$400 million with Turkey claiming the fourth largest share of Azerbaijan's foreign trade.[62] In 2003, Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdođan expressed his expectation that Azerbaijani-Turkish trade would grow to $1 billion.[63] The blossoming of Turkish-Azerbaijani ties reinforces Israel's own strategic vision for the region.[64]

Meanwhile, thanks to Ankara, the partnership between Baku and Jerusalem continues to mature. This was demonstrated by the July 2001 "Caspian Sea incident." That month, the Iranian warship Geophysics 3 threatened an Azerbaijani oil exploration ship in the Caspian Sea. As emotions and militaries flared, Turkey issued a statement promising to defend Azerbaijan.[65] It was clear that Israel would also take part. As an Israeli defense minister who was in Turkey shortly thereafter insisted, Israel would have joined the triumvirate against "Iranian aggression."[66] Just a week earlier, Sharon told journalists in Ankara that Israel would expand ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey.[67]

The United States. The U.S. government also remains a player. Baku cooperated with Jerusalem in the hope of improving ties with Washington.[68] Not too long ago, U.S. policymakers considered Azerbaijan to be, at best, irrelevant and at worst, a nuisance. In 1992, the United States Congress passed the Freedom Support Act promising economic and humanitarian aid to all the former Soviet republics except Azerbaijan. Muscled through by the Armenian lobby, Section 907 of the act legislated that Washington would not give aid to Azerbaijan until the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[69] As a result, Azerbaijan received no economic aid from the United States in the 1990s while Armenia received over $1 billion.[70]

In the mid 1990s, struggling to piece together the weak and dysfunctional Azerbaijani state, President Aliyev moved towards Jerusalem, thereby winning the allegiance of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. As Hassan Hassanov, Azerbaijan's foreign minister, stated in 1997, "We don't conceal that we rely on the Israeli lobby in the U.S."[71] This paid dividends when, in 2002, President Bush waived Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act.[72] In a rare and understated public admission, an official at the Azerbaijani embassy in Washington acknowledged that, "Jewish organizations made a certain contribution in the Section 907 waving process."[73]

In the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, the Bush administration recognized what a strategic asset Azerbaijan could be. Baku allowed overflight rights to U.S. planes flying to Afghanistan and supported Iraq's liberation.[74] Azerbaijani oil provides a useful counterweight to that of Saudi Arabia and other states supporting radical Islam. In March 2002, the U.S. State Department reversed a ban on arms sales to Azerbaijan that had been in effect since 1993.[75] Simultaneously, the U.S. government granted $4.4 million in U.S. foreign military financing grants to Azerbaijan with which to purchase American-made weapons.[76] In return, Azerbaijan sent peacekeepers to Iraq in 2003.[77]

Publicly the Bush administration has pledged that it remains committed to seeing a more democratic Azerbaijan. In the run-up to Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections in November 2005, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried stated that the United States is "serious" about democracy-building in Azerbaijan.[78] Yet just how serious Washington is remains a question. U.S. foreign policymakers need Azerbaijan to continue providing much needed energy security and bases for U.S. special operations. Upsetting the already volatile regime of Heydar Aliyev's son may do more harm than good to U.S. interests. Authorities in Tehran remain ready to exploit any political instability.

Increased U.S. attention to Azerbaijan has been a double-edged sword for Israel, though. While the Baku-Washington rapprochement helped cement Azerbaijan in a pro-Western, anti-Islamist camp, it has also reduced Jerusalem's leverage. Azerbaijani authorities, feeling that they have exhausted the use of pro-Israel groups in Washington, now worry they will be seen by others in the region as too close to Israel.[79]

Where Goes the Israel-Azerbaijan Relationship?

The relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan is at a crossroads. While Baku once embraced ties to Israel, many Azerbaijani elites are privately reconsidering their strategy.

Azerbaijan's recent decision to curtail expansion of cooperation with Israel is part of a trend.[80] While Azerbaijani officials travel to Israel at unprecedented levels, the visits are rarely covered in the press and produce few results. Still, there remains potential for expansion of cooperation not only in the energy sector but also in agriculture, Azerbaijan's largest employer and second largest sector after oil.[81]

The most vital question for both states remains Iran. While there is broad bilateral consensus that countering Iranian influence is vital to both Azerbaijan and Israel's national security,[82] Iranian officials remain dedicated to reversing that perspective. Many Iranian officials remind their Azerbaijani counterparts that Iran will always be present, long after U.S. and Israeli attention focuses elsewhere.[83] Here, any Israeli-Azerbaijan cooperation could be beneficial. As Azerbaijani foreign policy expert Vafa Guluzade has said, if "Israel will construct a factory that will give jobs to thousands, or even to hundreds, it will be good anti-Iranian propaganda."[84]

Yet there is little evidence that Azerbaijani elites will take advantage of the opportunities Israel presents. Many of the same issues that hampered cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan in the 1990s remain unresolved. One Israeli diplomatic likened the relationship to that between "a virgin and a gentlemen caller … she wants it but is afraid."[85]

Israeli politicians, while always calling for closer cooperation with Azerbaijan, have become frustrated with Azerbaijan's cold feet. Some high-level Israeli diplomats privately wonder whether state interests or personal interests such as business contacts with senior Iranians are driving Azerbaijani officials away.[86] They wonder whether Arab refusal to support pro-Azerbaijani U.N. resolutions regarding issues such as the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute may erode Azerbaijani resolve.[87]

The ball is largely in Azerbaijan's court. As Rafael Abbasov said, there is "a huge demand on both sides for cooperation, but a lack of eye-level cooperation and a lack of political backbone hurts future prospects. Specifically harmful is the lack of an Azerbaijani embassy in Israel."[88]

Many Azerbaijanis recognize that their ties to Israel have benefited their state. As one Azeri columnist wrote in 2002, "Everybody knows well that Israel is one of the few countries with which Azerbaijan has only positive experiences. It is high time for Azerbaijan to dare to have its own path."[89] Indeed, as Iran's nuclear program and Saudi support for Islamist groups threaten regional security, it is also in Washington's interest to help cement the Baku-Jerusalem relationship.

Ilya Bourtman is a former researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, Israel.

[1] Jane Hunter, "Israel and Turkey: Arms for Azerbaijan?" Middle East International, Oct. 23, 1992; Soner Cagaptay and Alexander Murinson, "Good Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel: A Model for Other Muslim States in Eurasia?" The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch, no. 982, Mar. 30, 2005.
[2] Bülent Aras, "Post-Cold War Realities: Israel's Strategy in Azerbaijan and Central Asia," Middle East Policy, Jan. 1998, p. 68-9.
[3] Jacob Abadi, "Israel's Quest for Normalization with Azerbaijan and the Muslim States of Central Asia," Journal of Third World Studies, Fall 2002, p. 66.
[4] Ibid., p. 74.
[5] Aras, "Israel's Strategy in Azerbaijan and Central Asia," p. 68-9.
[6] Ha'aretz (Tel Aviv), Dec. 21, 1993.
[7] Sedat Laciner, "Armenia's Jewish Skepticism and Its Impact on Armenia-Israel Relations," The Journal of Turkish Weekly, Oct. 11, 2004.
[8] Ma'ariv (Tel Aviv), Oct. 24, 1995.
[9] Jane's Defense Weekly, Oct. 16, 1996.
[10] Ekho (Baku), Apr. 16, 2004.
[11] Ekho, Apr. 16, 2004.
[12] See A. I. Novikov, "Otnoshenia Izrailia co stranami bivchsego SSSR," Institute Blizhnego Vostoka, Jan. 25, 2005.
[13] Personal e-mail correspondence with senior official, Israeli Foreign Ministry, June 10, 2005.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Cagaptay and Murinson, "Good Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel."
[16] Itar-TASS News Agency (Moscow), Oct. 22, 2001.
[17] Zerkalo (Baku), Jan. 4, 2002.
[18] "Baku Is Fearful of Mojahedin," Axis Information and Analysis, July 17, 2005.
[19] "Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami," Global Security.org, accessed Mar. 13, 2006.
[20] Tadeusz Swietochowski, "Azerbaijan: The Hidden Faces of Islam," World Policy Journal, Fall 2002, p. 75.
[21] Shahin Abbasov and Khadija Ismailova, "The Wahhabi Watch," Transitions Online, Aug. 22, 2005.
[22] Ha'aretz, Feb. 15, 2006.
[23] "Overview of State-Sponsored Terrorism," Patterns of Global Terrorism: 2002 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, 2003), accessed Apr. 19, 2006.
[24] The Jerusalem Report, Sept. 21, 1995.
[25] The Jerusalem Report, May 19, 1994.
[26] BBC News, July 26, 2002.
[27] Personal e-mail correspondence with author, June 14, 2005.
[28] "Statistical Yearbook of Azerbaijan, 2005," The State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan Republic, Baku, accessed Feb. 21, 2006.
[29] Data compiled from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, accessed July 17, 2005.
[30] Data compiled from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, accessed Feb. 22, 2005.
[31] The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 2, 2001.
[32] United Press International, Nov. 4, 2002.
[33] The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 31, 1997.
[34] Personal e-mail correspondence with Elshan Gurbanov, professor of political science, Baku State University, June 20, 2005.
[35] Personal e-mail correspondence with Rafael Abbasov, July 20, 2005.
[36] The Financial Express (New Delhi), June 10, 2005.
[37] The Jerusalem Report, June 17, 1993.
[38] "Turco-Israeli Oil Agreement," Turkish Press Review, Directorate General of Press and Information, Office of the Prime Minister, Istanbul, Sept. 1, 1997.
[39] Personal e-mail correspondence with senior official, Israeli Foreign Ministry, June 10, 2005.
[40] Baku Today, Jan. 29, 2003; Azerbaijan International Independent News Agency (AssA-Irada, Baku), Jan. 27, 2005.
[41] Personal e-mail correspondence with Kanan Seyidov, July 18, 2005.
[42] Michael Rubin, "Iran Means What It Says," On the Issues, American Enterprise Institute, Jan. 25, 2006.
[43] Alex Wagner, "Washington Levies Sanctions for WMD-Related Transfers to Iran," Arms Control Today, June 2002.
[44] Swietochowski, "Azerbaijan: The Hidden Faces of Islam," p. 73; The Jerusalem Report, June 17, 1993.
[45] "The Republic of Azerbaijan: Country Profile 2005," Ministry of Economic Development and Azerbaijan Investment Promotion and Advisory Foundation, Baku, p. 3.
[46] Cagaptay and Murinson, "Good Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel."
[47] Avi Machlis, "Azerbaijan Courts Jews, Israel to Win Favor with U.S.," Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service (New York), Feb. 1, 2000.
[48] Personal interview with a representative of the Israeli government involved in discussions, Tel Aviv, June 13, 2005.
[49] The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 20, 2004.
[50] The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 31, 1997.
[51] OMRI Daily Digest, Open Media Research Institute, Washington, D.C., Aug. 10, 1995.
[52] Tehran Times, Jan. 25, 2005.
[53] Turkish Daily News (Ankara), Dec. 28, 1998.
[54] The Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2005.
[55] Novikov, "Otnoshenia Izrailia co stranami bivchsego SSSR."
[56] Zavtra (Moscow), June 23, 1998.
[57] "Azerbaijan in Figures 2005: Azerbaijan's Main Trading Partners in 2004 (thsd. US$)," The State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan Republic , accessed Mar. 1, 2006.
[58] Anoushiravan Ehteshami, "New Frontiers: Iran, the GCC and the CCAR's," in Anoushiravan Ehteshami, ed., From the Gulf of Central Asia: Players in the New Great Game (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1994), p. 96.
[59] Ibid.
[60] Shirin Akiner, "Political Processes in Post-Soviet Central Asia," in Mehdi Parvizi Amineh and Henk Houweling, eds., Central Eurasia in Global Politics: Conflict, Security and Development (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2004), p. 137.
[61] Svante E. Cornell, "Iran and the Caucasus," Middle East Policy, Jan. 1998, p. 51.
[62] "Azerbaijan's Main Trading Partners."
[63] Eurasia Insight (New York), Jan. 22, 2003.
[64] Aras, "Israel's Strategy in Azerbaijan and Central Asia," pp. 68-9.
[65] Hürriyet (Istanbul), Aug. 13, 2001.
[66] Hürriyet, Aug. 13, 2001.
[67] Hürriyet, Aug. 8, 2001.
[68] Hershel Shanks and Suzanne Singer, "Oil and Jews on the Silk Road," Moment, Oct. 1998, p. 68.
[69] The Freedom Support Act, Public Law 102-511, Sec. 907, Oct. 24, 1992.
[70] Shanks and Singer, "Oil and Jews on the Silk Road," p. 70.
[71] TURAN Information Agency (Baku), Aug. 21, 1997.
[72] "Presidential Waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act," White House press statement, Jan. 30, 2002.
[73] Personal e-mail correspondence with Sultan Malikov, July 28, 2005.
[74] Amb. Hafiz Pashayev, Embassy of Azerbaijan, "Iraq and the Caucasus: How Will War Affect the Region?" Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 27, 2003.
[75] Wade Boese, "U.S. Halts Arms Sales to Zimbabwe, Lifts Ban on Armenia, Azerbaijan," Arms Control Today, May 2002, p. 38.
[76] Ibid.
[77] Agence France-Presse, Aug. 13, 2003.
[78] The National Interest, Nov. 8, 2005.
[79] Cameron S. Brown, "Observations from Azerbaijan," Middle East Review of International Affairs, Dec. 2002, p. 2.
[80] Personal e-mail correspondence with senior official, Israeli Foreign Ministry, June 10, 2005.
[81] "Azerbaijan at a Glance, Agriculture," Embassy of Israel, Azerbaijan, Economic and Trade Relations Department, accessed Mar. 1, 2006.
[82] The Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2005, Feb. 12, 2006.
[83] Personal e-mail correspondence with senior official, Israeli Foreign Ministry, June 10, 2005.
[84] Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Sept. 11, 2002.
[85] Personal e-mail correspondence with senior official, Israeli Foreign Ministry, June 10, 2005.
[86] Personal e-mail correspondence with senior official, Israeli Foreign Ministry, June 10, 2005.
[87] Ekho, Mar. 26, 2005.
[88] Personal e-mail correspondence with Rafael Abbasov, economics officer, Asian Development Bank, Azerbaijan, July 20, 2005.
[89] Zerkalo, Feb. 7, 2002.

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