Israel Forges Close Ties With Azerbaijan — Both Eye Iran

Oil, Arms and Tech Fuel Enemy-of-My-Enemy Bond

Caucasus Friend: Ilham Aliyev and his wife walk to a diplomatic function. The Azeri leader has forged stronger ties to Israel.
getty images
Caucasus Friend: Ilham Aliyev and his wife walk to a diplomatic function. The Azeri leader has forged stronger ties to Israel.

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published September 17, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — With less than a month to go until presidential elections, the moustachioed smile of Ilham Aliyev stares down at his countrymen from giant posters scattered around this bustling metropolis on the Caspian Sea.

The Azerbaijani president has been in office since 2003 and is widely expected to be re-elected, extending the leadership of the Aliyev clan into its third decade. Aliyev’s father, Heydar, held the post for a decade prior to his son’s ascension.

Ilham Aliyev’s tenure has brought greater prosperity to this young country, but it has come at a price: Widespread corruption and human rights abuses have earned Azerbaijan a dismal ranking in a survey of democratic standards in 166 countries conducted last year by the Economist magazine.

But to the West – especially to Israel – Aliyev is a trusted friend and the key to a transformation that has developed oil-rich Azerbaijan from a small nation in Iran’s shadow to a strategic ally and an avid consumer of Israeli arms.

“The partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan is complicated by political factors, but ultimately it is moving forward because it makes sense from an economical point of view,” said Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union and ex-director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. “Azerbaijan is reliable enough as a supplier of oil for Israel, and Israel is a reliable supplier of high-tech and arms.”

Israel has long cultivated ties with this Muslim nation, which has enormous reserves of oil and natural gas and a 380-mile southern border with Iran. The Jewish state opened an embassy in Baku in 1992, just one year after Azerbaijan gained independence from the former Soviet Union.

But Azerbaijan, mindful of antagonizing its neighbor, the partnership has mostly flourished in the shadows. Azerbaijan still does not have an embassy in Israel, despite expanding bilateral trade now pegged at $3 billion a year. In 2009, Aliyev compared relations with Israel to an iceberg: “nine-tenths submerged.”

The elder Aliyev, a former KGB boss, handled the relationship with Israel “with great care during those early and unstable times,” according to Avinoam Idan, a senior research fellow at John Hopkins University’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.

In recent years, however, the partnership has grown much more open – and more robust.

In 2011, the Israeli defense contractor Aeronautics opened a factory for military drones in Azerbaijan. The following year, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries sold Azerbaijan $1.6 billion worth of weapons – a deal that amounted to 43 percent of Azerbaijan’s total expenditure on arms in 2012. Azerbaijan now supplies a whopping 40 percent of Israel’s oil consumption.

In May, Elmar Mammadyarov became the first Azerbaijani foreign minister to visit Israel. Mammadyarov met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres along with a dozen other ministers and promised that the opening of an Azerbaijani embassy was “just a matter of time.”

Israel’s increasingly cozy ties with Azerbaijan have grown in the wake of a crisis in the country’s relations with Iran. Though traditionally mistrustful of the Islamic Republic’s penchant for exporting revolutionary zeal, Azerbaijan had strived to maintain good relations, signing a non-aggression pact with Tehran in 2005.

But relations deteriorated in 2009 after Iran cracked down on the large minority of ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Iran. When Azerbaijan protested, Iranian officials threatened to raise territorial claims.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.