Israel-Azerbaijan state relations: weapons, lies and diplomacy

illiam aliyev with netanyahu

On 14 July 2020, the Defense Ministry of the Republic of Armenia reported that an Azerbaijani drone had been shot down. This Israeli-made drone, the Hermes-900, costs around 30 million USD and is a sophisticated and advanced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), according to Artsun Hovhannisyan, the spokesperson for the Defense Ministry. 

Israel has been providing Azerbaijan with weapons to be used in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Fought over between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1988, the “Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast” had been under the Azerbaijani SSR’s suzerainty since 1923, when Stalin decided to carve up the Soviet Union through his ‘divide and conquer’ policy, disregarding the wishes of the local population(s). The overwhelming Armenian-majority region sought independence in 1991, akin to the independence of the republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan; but, alas, the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 exemplified the nationalist sentiments of the different ethnic groups in the region. 

We could deduce from The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute‘s database that, to date, Azerbaijan has spent around 5 to 6 billion USD in arms from Israel, the country’s largest arms supplier. Other arms suppliers to Azerbaijan, include Turkey, Russia and Pakistan, the only country in the world which does not recognize Armenia as an independent state and which according to the Eurasian Times is in the process of manufacturing fighter aircrafts for Azerbaijan. 

Israel’s sale of weapons to ‘questionable’ regimes has been well recorded. India, Vietnam, Myanmar, South Sudan, but also Rwanda and Serbia in the past, have been customers of Israel in this domain. What is most interesting is Times of Israel‘s reporting on how the Aeronautics Defense Systems carried out a test of their Orbiter 1K system on an Armenian military position after the Azerbaijanis requested a demonstration; which is illegal under Israeli law since Armenia is not an enemy of Israel. The two Israeli personnels who were capable of carrying this out, refused to do so, angering their superiors. Nevertheless, two other Israeli members of the company tried to perform the demonstration but, fortunately for the Armenians, missed their target. In 2018, the CEO and other high ranking officials in the Aeronautics Defense Systems were summoned to appear before the State Attorney’s office and were very likely to be indicted, because of the attack it carried out against the Armenian military position. In 2019, these senior officials were stripped of their license to export arms, but the firm itself had its license to sell arms returned. 

Israel’s machiavellian politics is worrisome. To think that the only Jewish State in the world is selling arms to authoritarian and criminal regimes is alarming, and as much as I would like to say it is ‘understandable’, it is not. It is baffling to realize that the suffering inflicted on a group of people does not eliminate the possibility of this group in participating in the suffering of another. Israel wants to rise to the occasion, prove its might, yet plays the victim when it is obviously not (at least not always). All countries of the Middle East — and arguably the world — have had their fair share of crimes committed against another country or population. The mere fact that the Jewish State is a ‘state’ puts it on par with other countries succeptible of crimes. This does not discount the centuries-old suffering of the Jewish people and their quest for a safe haven, but it does question the state’s moral compass — which is obviously broken. 

To this day, it is said that not to anger Turkey, Israel refuses to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. In fact, it is  to not anger Azerbaijan, Turkey’s best friend. The former is arguably the muslim-majority country which has friendliest of ties with Israel, which imports 25 to 40% of its oil from the oil-rich South Caucasus country. Azerbaijan is a puppet state of Turkey and if it weren’t for the Republic of Armenia geographically separating the two, odds are the present map would have been different. 

Azerbaijan keeps bringing up the presence of its old Jewish minority, numbering a few thousands, in every article, press briefing and speech; it has not necessarily been the best place to be Jewish and there has been numerous accounts of antisemitism against the Jews in the country (let us not forget that antisemitism is a global phenomenon, not unique to Europe). There are actually more ‘Azeri’ Jews in Israel and Russia than in Azerbaijan. It is important to mention that Azerbaijan does not always align its politics with that of Israel at the UN. This is because Azerbaijan does not want to advertise its good relations with a country mired in controversy — especially with it being almost entirely Muslim (although, Azerbaijan sent its Finance Minister as a representative of the country to the largest pro-Israel lobby in the US, AIPAC, last year, which was a unique occurrence). Regardless, Israel is known to cosy up to  authoritarian government officials of the world, disregarding human rights and even the rampant antisemitism in the country in question. Israel uses antisemitism to advance its agenda of safeguarding its existence whatever the cost. It is not out of hatred of Armenians or love of Azerbaijanis, it is only for both political strategy and convenience that it supports Azerbaijan over Armenia, though this is not official government policy.  

Azerbaijan and Iran are at odds with each other since the former has unofficial claims on Azeri-populated regions of Iran. Iran is Israel’s enemy number one and as such Israel and Azerbaijan have become friends of convenience. Armenia has friendly relations with Iran and as such puts it at odds with Israel. Only recently did Armenia work on opening a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv (all the while reassuring Iran of its plans).

The recent dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia must put Israel in a difficult position for it to reassess its place both on the world stage but also in its arms sales policy. Many would consider the international politics of Israel to be smart, others would question its intentions. Israel must bare some responsibility and be held accountable because innocent people are dying and all it cares about is selling arms to whomever is either ready to pay for them or to those who supposedly have the slightest common interest with it. This is extremely unfortunate and disturbing. 

Photo: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Haim Tzach, GPO)

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