Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Fariz Rzayev on Tuesday told the IDC Herzliya Conference that back when both Israel and Pakistan supported his country during the Second Karabakh War, both those countries’ flags were foisted side-by-side, perhaps for the first time.
“Azerbaijan raised those two flags together with the Turkish flag,” Minister Rzayev related. “It tells you something about our country. The vision of President Aliyev is pivotal to Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, and his vision is to turn Azerbaijan into a leading nation in the Caucuses, a place of cooperation, not confrontation, a place for dialogue, not hatred. Our history includes the Jewish history of Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan is proud that we never had antisemitism in our country.”
In a country where between 55-85% of the population are Shia Muslim, and which borders the vehemently antisemitic Iran, which is also majority Shia, that’s saying a lot.
News12 editor Arad Nir, who interviewed the deputy FM, asked him why it took Azerbaijan thirty years to open up an embassy in Tel Aviv. Rzayev responded that it’s better to do things well than fast.
Opening an embassy in Tel Aviv did not take place in a vacuum, he continued. “There were growing economic, energy, and trade relations. There were direct flights between Israel and Azerbaijan. There were a series of senior high-level visits including at the level of ministers, prime ministers, and presidents. The late President Shimon Peres had the honor of speaking at Ada University and I had the privilege of asking a question and having him sign my copy of his book.” In other words, opening the embassy was the culmination of already existing positive relations between Israel and Azerbaijan. “We needed preparation.”
Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister noted Azerbaijan’s role in reaching reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, stressing that both Turkey and Israel “are true, strong, reliable friends of Azerbaijan. So, whenever there are rumors or gossip of disagreements and differences of opinion between our true friends, we did everything we could to help them find a common language and come to an understanding, which is good for the region, and which in turn is good for Azerbaijan’s strategic stability.”
Azerbaijan plays a critical role in providing for Israel’s energy security, Rzayev said. “We understand the importance and relevance of energy security. The trade is booming. It is growing. The numbers are good, but they will become even higher because there are many similarities between Israel and Azerbaijan in terms of nature, the landscape, and the challenges we are facing. Both of our countries have problems with natural water sources. Israel is a champion in water management and water recycling. So, there is a huge desalination project under development in Azerbaijan, in which Israel is, of course, a natural partner.”
Rzayev believes the potential for the relationship between the two countries is limitless – “the sky is the limit,” as he put it. “We want to learn from the best. We want to buy the best. We want to cooperate,” he said.
When asked about Iran, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister noted that Azerbaijanis are “masters of our own fate. We demonstrated that in 2020, with our victory in the Second Karabakh War. It changed the strategic situation in the region. It changed the perception of many things. The only thing we wanted from Iran was a mutually respectful dialogue between nations. We are neighbors. We are destined to live next to each other. Neither country is going to move to the moon in the future. So, we always tried to focus on positive things. There are foreign policy and security disagreements, but we are proud to pursue a fully sovereign foreign policy.”
However, he continued, “Our relations are at a very low point. We presently do not have an embassy in Tehran. There was a terror attack against our embassy there last January. We have a lot of questions about the source of that attack. We are insisting on a fair and transparent investigation. There are a lot of questions that must be answered to understand what happened and to prevent it from happening in the future.”
He noted that even though Azerbaijan is a small country, “surrounded by many large neighbors who do not share our agenda, we manage to be strong and successful.” But Azerbaijan does live in a tough neighborhood. “We are small and landlocked. We are surrounded by big countries with their agendas, yet remain independent and successful. Maybe we succeed because we manage to find a common language with them.”