As civil war in Syria, the onslaught of ISIS, and the deliberation of Iranian nuclear agreements ensue, very few are aware of the growing economic partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan. “Trade between Israel and Azerbaijan now totals $4 billion annually, the highest figure for Israel’s business with any of the now-independent countries that were part of the former Soviet Union…” (Albawaba, 2012). Israel has no better ally than Azerbaijan in terms of economic and military capability in the region. Israel is aware of the significance of Azerbaijan with respect to the collection of Iranian and Russian military and economic intelligence. Azerbaijan has an optimal ally in Israel with regard to the development of its weaponry and surveillance technology. In addition, Israel and Azerbaijan are quite familiar with conflict among neighboring countries, and dominant regional powers.
Through the Azeri-Israeli economic partnership, Israel is gaining from Azeri expertise in exploration and development of fuels, while benefiting Azerbaijan in the establishment of its technology, education, agriculture, and military sectors. “In February, Azerbaijan agreed to pay state-run Israel Aerospace Industries $1.6 billion for …drones and anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems. That’s nearly a quarter of the money Azerbaijan’s government takes in each year, $7.8 billion. Azerbaijan also provides about 30 percent of Israel’s energy needs” (Albawaba, 2012).
“Israel recognized Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991 and opened an embassy there in 1993” (Shaffer, 2013). Perhaps it was pure coincidence that Israel sought a relationship with Azerbaijan just before the fall of the Soviet Union. “Baku and Israel share a common regional orientation, strong strategic cooperation with the United States, and a potent security threat from Iran” (Shaffer, 2013). The fact is, both countries are aware of the strength that economic partnership provides. Since the 1990’s, numerous countries in the Middle East have attempted to become the regional hegemon. This trend has increased in past years due to a reduced presence in the region on the part of the United States. Pro-Western associations like the Israeli-Azeri partnership encourage greater economic freedom, and are necessary in hedging the prominence of Russia, China, and Iran in the Middle East and surrounding regions.
The development of Israel’s relationship with Azerbaijan proves that what truly divides Middle-Eastern nations is whether they have fundamentalist ideologies or not. Azerbaijan is 85 percent Shia Muslim, evidence that not all Shiites prefer Iran as the regional hegemon. Often when viewing economies in the Middle East, there is a tendency to label nations and territories pro-Sunni, or pro-Shia. Azerbaijan, Egypt, Jordan, and the territory of Kurdistan, all favorable trade and diplomatic partners with Israel, have varying degrees of Shia and Sunni populations. Israel, a true market economy, demonstrates the prospect of a prosperous future in the Middle East, and as a result, is gaining support among nations like Azerbaijan.
Even Turkey acknowledges the importance of maintaining its trade with Israel. Although Israeli-Turkish diplomatic relations have been strained over recent years due to the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010, trade among both countries has increased considerably in recent years. Perhaps strong economic partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan may lead to reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, once great diplomatic allies. If this occurs, an economic bloc from the Mediterranean to the north of Afghanistan will be created. Currently, Turkey and its Central Asian allies are developing the “…Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey transportation link project aimed at increasing trade and reducing cargo transit expenses among these countries…” (Rejepova, 2015).
It is possible that in the wake of regional civil war, the spread of militant Islam, and the threat of a nuclear Iran, a silver lining on the part of Israel and Azerbaijan is beginning to emerge. Nations in the Middle East are discovering the long-term advantage of sound diplomacy and trade. If relations like the Israeli-Azeri partnership continue to develop, regional negotiation with anti-Western, rogue regimes like ISIS, Al Qaida, and Iran will decline. Turkey realizes this, and does not interfere with the flow of Azeri oil to Israel amidst current political turbulence.