Azerbaijan, a strategic ally of Israel and a neighbor of Iran, is seriously considering opening an embassy in Israel amid growing threats from Iran, Israeli media reports.
Azerbaijan and Israel established diplomatic relations three decades ago, in 1992. Israel has an embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, but it took 30 years for Azerbaijan to conclude that an embassy in Israel is in its own national interest.
In a recent interview with the Pravda newspaper, Arzu Naghiyev, an Azeri lawmaker and member of the Azerbaijan-Israel inter-parliamentary group of friendship, confidently said “there is already a decision” and that “the opening of Azerbaijan’s embassy in Israel can only be delayed by technical reasons.”
Despite the absence of an Azeri embassy in Israel, bilateral ties between the two countries have become strong in recent years.
“Israel is our partner of political, military, economic and cultural-spiritual strategic importance,” Naghiyev said.
Azerbaijan claims that its primary concern is Tehran’s ties with Armenia, a nation under attack from Azerbaijan in recent months. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been embroiled in an ethnic and territorial conflict since 1988 – over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. But lately Azerbaijan has been attacking Armenia within its borders as well.
Unexpectedly, the Shiite Islamist regime of Iran has sided with the Christian country of Armenia in its conflict against the Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, whose population is 85% Shi’a and 15% Sunni.
In September, at least 100 soldiers were killed in renewed fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan before a ceasefire was declared.
Iranian state TV recently threatened Azerbaijan and Israel in a song, whose aggressive lyrics stated: “Israel … don’t dig your own grave with your own hands. … Iran declares this so that Azerbaijan knows and understands. … Anyone who looks at Iran the wrong way must be destroyed.”
It is not the first time that Iran issued threatening messages related to both Israel and Azerbaijan. In July, Iran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan Abbas Mousavi threatened the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan George Deek, a Christian Arab-Israeli.
In a message about the northwestern Iranian city Tabriz, which serves as the capital of East Azerbaijan Province, Mousavi tweeted: “Our beloved #Tabriz is known as the land of FIRSTS in #Iran’s proud history. Apparently, the FIRST Evil Zionist is going to be buried by the zealous people of Tabriz, too.”
Earlier this year, Israeli President Isaac Herzog hailed the anniversary of 30 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Azerbaijan, calling it a “significant landmark in our relations.
“I hope to see us fulfill an additional milestone, in the opening of the Azerbaijan Embassy in Israel,” Herzog’s letter said. “I would like to reiterate my invitation to Your Excellency to visit Israel during this upcoming year, so we may jointly inaugurate your new embassy.”
Some critics have opposed Israel’s ties with Azerbaijan because of its non-democratic government, which has been accused of serious human rights violations.
However, strategic national interests have shown to weigh heavier than human rights issues for alliances in the region.
Israel has provided Azerbaijan with sophisticated military hardware, and, in return, Azerbaijan gives Israel some 40% of its petroleum imports.
While some media reports suggest Israeli military intelligence has used Azerbaijan’s strategic location against the Iranian regime, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev firmly denied Iran’s accusations of an Israeli military presence on the Azerbaijan-Iran border.
“We are showing good intentions. But this does not mean that we will accept baseless accusations against ourselves. I am saying this to the Azerbaijani people and the whole world here in Jabrayil, on the banks of the Araz River, that all baseless accusations against us will not remain unanswered,” Aliyev said.
Azerbaijan reportedly has a long history of friendly relations with the Jewish people.
Azerbaijan-born Roman Gurevich, the Jewish Agency’s honorary envoy to the country, spoke warmly about Azerbaijan as “a tolerant Shiite Muslim country in which there was never anti-Semitism.”
“The country always respected and loved the Jewish people and warm relations between the nations will only grow stronger if an Azerbaijan embassy opens in Israel,” he said.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.