The war in Ukraine has shifted the global balance, leading not only to the creation of previously improbable alliances, but also to the mixing and merging of long-standing conflicts in other regions. One prime example is the merging of the Indo-Pakistani clash with the South Caucasus conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The latter has been going on for over three decades, and is as active as ever. It formed two distinct blocs of support on each side: Azerbaijan is supported by Turkey, Israel and Pakistan, while Armenia is supported by Russia (who has military bases on Armenian territory) and Iran. On the Armenian side, India is a recent addition to the alliance.
It should come as no surprise that India and Pakistan, locked in their own historical conflict over very similar circumstances, would seek to assist and intervene in the situation in South Caucasus. Naturally, Pakistan has been growing closer to Azerbaijan and Turkey over their religious and cultural affinity since the 1990s, while India has recently been probing its place in the regions where Russia’s influence is waning. Israel, being one of the key allies of Azerbaijan, also maintains warm and cordial relations with India, which puts Jerusalem in a peculiar position, allowing to leverage its close ties with both countries to its advantage.
India, remarkably, maintains close security and military relations with both Israel and Russia, from whom it purchases most of its arms imports (France is next on the list). New Delhi’s recent arms exports to Yerevan, which began last year, are alarming to say the least.
Firstly, the arms are being supplied through Iran. Tehran is the middleman in this deal, and this was one of the main “candies” offered to New Delhi in exchange for strengthening relations with the Islamic Republic.
The deal itself is quite a significant investment of about USD 245 million in the form of artillery systems and anti-tank munitions for Armenia – over 10% of its military budget. Thanks to tight Israeli regulations and control over Israeli-made weapons, the fear is not that modern weapons developed in Israel will reach Yerevan from India, but that the warming relations with Armenia against the backdrop of Russia’s incompetence and inability to act as Yerevan’s main benefactor could lead to an even greater rapprochement between Tehran and New Delhi.
Israel’s stake in the South Caucasus conflict is much more than simple financial investments and military export considerations; at the end of the day, the Israeli partnership with Azerbaijan is about forming a united front against the main existential threat to the Jewish state – Iran, not to mention economic ties with Baku, the main energy resource exporter to Israel.
With that in mind, one must also remember Jerusalem’s close ties with New Delhi and the leverage Israel has on India thanks to military exports and economic partnerships. Other than joining a side that Pakistan is not favoring, India has little to gain in the South Caucasus conflict. New Delhi is in the process of warming relations with ostracized Iran and Armenia, a puppet of another ostracized country, Russia.
It is only natural that India seeks allies close to it geographically, closer to Europe and the West in general, due to China’s growing influence and tensions with Beijing. However, it should be said at every opportunity that an alliance with Iran is an even bigger geopolitical rabbit hole and a detriment to Israel-India relations.
Moreover, maintaining strong bilateral ties with Israel and Azerbaijan could culminate in normalization with Pakistan, bringing peace to the region. Following the example of how Baku brought Ankara and Jerusalem closer together in late 2022, Azerbaijan and Israel can do the same again to help mediate between Pakistan and India, in line with one of Baku’s core diplomatic doctrines: “Our friends must be friends as well.” Also, it should be noted that due to Pakistan’s proximity to the Sunni Gulf states (and its dependence thereupon), whose relations with Israel have improved since the Abraham Accords, there is potential for indirect cooperation between Israel and Pakistan. The growing relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan could form the basis for future diplomatic ties.
Ultimately, it should be the responsibility of the Israeli leadership to contain Iran’s sphere of influence and ensure that Iran does not forge new alliances, including through Armenia, that could help the ayatollahs advance their agenda. Russia’s status as a superpower, even a regional one, is fading, and India should be prepared to accept this and rely on warm relations with Israel rather than on building rapport with Iran.