Photo Credit: Haim Zach / GPO
Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets President of Azerbaijan Ilham Heydar Oghlu Aliyev, December 13, 2016.

Next year, Azerbaijan and Israel will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship, with the recent opening of the Azerbaijani Trade and Tourism Representation in Tel Aviv marking an important strategic upgrade in the relationship between the two countries.

In an exclusive interview, Israeli political analyst Prof. Arye Gut told me that the establishment of an Azerbaijani Trade and Tourism Office was the first step by Baku on the way to establishing an embassy in Israel (there has been an Israeli embassy in Baku since the early 1990s – RA). His comments were confirmed by an Azerbaijani government official, who stressed that the relationship between Jerusalem and Baku is extremely friendly, and an embassy “could potentially be established in the future.”

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When the Azerbaijani Trade and Tourism Office opened in Israel, Azerbaijani Economy Minister Mikael Jabarov stated: “We have reached a new stage in our strategic relations. Our cooperation has strong roots and our relations have strengthened and deepened because of the many contacts between Israel and Azerbaijan.”

“No country in Eurasia has closer, warmer, more sincere, and friendlier relations with Israel than Azerbaijan,” said Prof. Gut, and noted that the friendship between Azerbaijanis and Jews has stretched over the past 2,600 years. According to him, Azerbaijanis don’t view the Jews living in their midst as foreigners, but as an integral part of society. Azerbaijan, a predominately Shia country, is also home to Zoroastrians and Christians.

According to Gut, “the historic visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Azerbaijan in December 2016 and the aid Israel gave Azerbaijan during the Second Karabakh War once again confirmed that Azerbaijan and Israel have a close strategic partnership.”

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev highlighted this partnership when he told Netanyahu: “The Jews of Azerbaijan play an important, invaluable, and integral role in the socio-political life of our country and make a great contribution to bringing the truth about Azerbaijan to the world.”

Israel sold Azerbaijan SandCat-Stormer armored vehicles with 12.7 mm NSV machine guns, anti-tank guided missiles SPIKE-ER, NLOS, LAHAT, 120 mm SPEAR mortars, and numerous UAVs. These played a major role in Armenia’s military failure in the Second Karabakh War. “In 44 days, the image of the ‘glorified Armenian army’ was destroyed and Armenia’s occupation army smashed to smithereens,” Prof. Gut said.

“Three months ago, I was in the Azerbaijani liberated territories, and from the first moment, I had such a feeling as if a terrible plague had come to this territory,” Gut recalled. “In the entire liberated territory, there was not a single home, not a single kindergarten or school, not a single library or museum. For 27 years, the Armenian occupation army engaged in looting and vandalism, wiping out such handsome cities as Aghdam, Fizuli, Jabrayil, and Zangilan from the face of the earth. Where there used to be streets and houses, schools and museums, now I saw only doorways and columns, and window frames scattered about. The ruins are overgrown with trees. These territories look like ghost towns.”

According to Gut, Azerbaijan is hoping to conclude deals with Israeli companies that will help revitalize the Karabakh region – a joint Israeli-Italian dairy factory has been established in Karabakh.

Minister Mikael Jabbarov added: “We want to return real-life to Karabakh. We’ve already started building the infrastructure and an airport. The Azerbaijani people will be coming back to smart cities based on the best technologies. Several countries are involved in these projects, and Israel was one of the first states that helped us in Karabakh. We invite Israeli investors to join these projects.”

Gut emphasized that Israel appreciates Azerbaijan’s treatment of its Jewish community: “Without this tradition of respect and partnership, close bilateral strategic relations between Azerbaijan and Israel would hardly exist. The relationship between the two countries, as well as between Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani Jews, cannot be explained by simple mutual interest. Common values and a common history permeate this relationship.”

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Rachel Avraham is the editor of the Economic Peace Center, which was established by Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel’s Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”