Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent official visit to Baku signals that Azerbaijan-Israel ties are gaining momentum.
Netanyahu’s visit on December 13, his first since 1997, resulted in the signing of four cooperation agreements, including one creating a joint economic commission that Netanyahu said would expand Azerbaijani energy exports to Israel.
The Facebook photo showing a hand holding an Azerbaijani passport came with a simple message: “I stand with Israel.” For a majority Shi’a Muslim country, that may not be an expected position to take on the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Palestinians; a struggle that has left hundreds of civilians dead or displaced since July.
Azerbaijan in late April crossed a self-imposed “red line” in its relations with southern neighbor Iran by dispatching Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on a visit to Israel, Tehran’s arch-foe. Reasons for the timing of the move are not clear, but, so far, Tehran appears to be biding its time with a response.
There has been much speculation surrounding Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel, including reports that Israeli warplanes might use Azerbaijani airfields as support bases during a potential attack against Iran. The reality of the bilateral relationship is not so dramatic, as it is pragmatic.
Azerbaijani military and political analysts are disputing a March 28 report on an American website that alleges Israel has gained access to airbases in Azerbaijan for possible use in an attack against Iran.
Standing on the deck of the Mavi Marmara recently, a Greek activist presented the head of Turkey’s Islamic Humanitarian Relief Foundation, sponsor of the Gaza-Strip-bound aid ship, with a model of an ancient Cretan vessel.