Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Tuesday for a historic visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, two Muslim-majority nations, in an effort to bolster ties with the Central Asian former Soviet Republics.
In Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, Netanyahu met with President Ilham Aliyev, who has been an outspoken supporter of Israel and an adversary of Iran, which shares a border with Azerbaijan.
Netanyahu last met Aliyev on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos last January.
President Aliyev spoke of the economic cooperation between the two nations and said that it could be expanded and diversified, according to an INN report.
“We need to work in order to diversify it and to increase it. We discussed today a very broad range of issues concerning our bilateral relations, regional development, and discussions were very open, friendly and will help us to strengthen our bilateral ties.”
INN also reported that he spoke highly of Israel’s technological capabilities and their potential to aid Azerbaijan. “ We have very good prospects in cooperation in agriculture and we discussed it with the Prime Minister. Israel has very modern technologies – some of them we are using and some of them probably will come later to Azerbaijan. [We foresee] good prospects for cooperation in that area.”
He also revealed the extent of Azerbaijan’s defense purchases from Israel to be nearly $5 billion.
“We are also actively cooperating in the area of defense industries and this cooperation has lasted already for many years. I’ll just bring you one figure to illustrate how broad this cooperation is: So far the contracts between Azerbaijani and Israeli companies with respect to purchasing of defense equipment are close to 5 billion dollars. More precisely – $4,850,000,000. The major part of these contracts have already been executed and we are still continuing to work on that and are very satisfied with the level of this cooperation.”
He said that Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel are a continuation of its historical friendly relations with the Jewish people, according to the INN report.
“For centuries Jews and Azerbaijanis lived in peace, friendship and continue to live here in Azerbaijan, and the Jewish community of Azerbaijan is a very active part of our society. They contribute a lot to the development of modern Azerbaijan and these close relations between our people is a very important factor in our bilateral relations.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the development of Azerbaijan in the 20 years since he last visited the country. This will be Netanyahu’s second visit as prime minister to Baku. He visited there for a few hours in 1997 and met with Aliyev’s father, then-president Heydar Aliyev.
He also praised the growing relationship between the two nations as “an example of Muslims and Jews working together to secure a better future for both of us. And it’s an example that shines against the background of intolerance and lack of acceptance and mutual respect.”
He then invited President Aliyev to visit Israel.
Following his stay in Azerbaijan, Netanyahu will visit Kazakhstan in an effort to boost defense and economic ties.
Algemeiner reported that a high- ranking former Israeli official told them that Netanyahu’s historic trip made been made as he “engages in activist diplomacy that involves diversifying the country’s foreign relations.”
The paper also quoted Dore Gold, former Foreign Ministry director-general and founder/ president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank, who said that as a result of Netanyahu’s efforts, “new diplomatic connections have been established in Africa — and now are being forged in former Soviet Central Asia. In both cases, the prime minister or his representatives have extended these contacts to Muslim states, as well.”
As someone who made several trips to Africa with Netanyahu this past summer in the quest to establish new relations with potential allies, Gold said, “Hopefully, in the years ahead, this activist diplomacy will lead to new voting patterns in several international institutions, such as the UN.”
In an extensive interview he gave to Algemeiner, Gold said that the development of relations with nations in the Arab/Islamic world was mutually beneficial. “Israel has its own interest in dealing with the Palestinian issue, but it doesn’t have to be a prerequisite for all of its international diplomacy.” He added that “States are ultimately motivated by their national interest, and Israel is able to address the economic and security concerns of many countries today. While in parts of the Arab world, the Palestinian issue is still extremely salient, elsewhere it is far less of a front-burner issue. And though these countries perhaps prefer more subtle connections with Israel, they want these connections nevertheless.”
Iran, which Azerbaijan’s immediate neighbor to the south expressed strong objections to Netanyahu’s visit there. It was reported that a top Iranian cleric, Sayed Mehdi Ghoreishi, told reporters, “It is unacceptable when a Muslim country tries to develop ties with a perpetrator. The Azerbaijani authorities must take this into account, as it is unacceptable for the Muslim society.”
The Iranian news agency MEHR reported that a march in the Iranian city of Tabriz was held on Friday denouncing Netanyahu’s trip to Azerbaijan, and demanding that Baku cancel it, according to a Jerusalem Post report.
The JPost report that indicated that Iran’s Tasnim News Agency quoted Iran’s former ambassador, Mohsen Pakayeen, as saying the visit “contravenes Azerbaijan’s commitments to the Islamic community.”
The agency added that “Pakayeen said the Republic of Azerbaijan, as a member of the Islamic community, should remain committed to Muslim nations’ agreements on the prohibition of any ties with Israel or any measure that would break the isolation of the Zionist regime.”
Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted Hossein Amir Abdollhaian, senior adviser to Iran’s speaker of the parliament, as saying that Netanyahu was trying to “hatch new plots” by his visit, according to the JPost report.
Prior to the historic visit, the JPost reported that a 2009 cable sent from the United States embassy in Baku quoted Aliyev as say that the relationship between his country and Israel were like “an iceberg.”
The paper also included a telling quote from Rob Garverick, a political and economic counselor in the Baku embassy during that time period.
“Israel’s relations with Azerbaijan are based strongly on pragmatism and a keen appreciation of priorities,” read the cable, written by Rob Garverick, a political and economic counselor in America’s Baku embassy at the time. “Israel’s main goal is to preserve Azerbaijan as an ally against Iran, a platform for reconnaissance of that country, and as a market for military hardware.” Both countries, he said, view Iran as an “existential threat.”
By: Arthur Popowitz