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BAKU: Azerbaijan, Israel Have Become 'Strategic Allies'

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  • BAKU: Azerbaijan, Israel Have Become 'Strategic Allies'

    June 28, 2011

    Political analyst Arye Gut comments for News.Az on Azerbaijani-Israeli
    relations on the eve of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' visit
    to Baku.

    As a professional specialist in the field of international relations,
    this is not the first time I have analysed the various aspects
    of Azerbaijani-Israeli cooperation and their media coverage. But I
    don't remember such a spate of publications that we've seen in recent
    weeks in the Israeli, Russian and Armenian media, which, frankly,
    are designed to undermine Israeli-Azerbaijani relations. I hope they
    do not work, although there can be no doubt about the partisanship
    of these gentlemen.

    As part of my public work, I often meet representatives of the
    Israeli elite. And, typically, political, military and public
    figures in Israel, as a rule, speak positively about our country
    and the prospects for bilateral cooperation. And it isn't just a
    gesture towards political correctness. Despite the ongoing global
    economic crisis, last year was very successful for Azerbaijani-Israeli
    relations. A number of large-scale transactions of an economic and
    military-technical nature were concluded and a major contract signed
    with Israeli construction company Shikun & Binui.

    Total trade between our countries has reached four billion dollars
    - a figure that makes our countries strategic allies. On the other
    hand, these figures do not please everyone: secret and open enemies
    to strengthen the Israeli-Azerbaijani cooperation, alas, is missing.

    As a representative of the Israel-Azerbaijan International Association
    (AZIZ), representing the Israeli community of descendants from
    Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani diaspora of Israel, I have repeatedly
    answered questions about the lack of an Azerbaijani embassy in Israel.

    And every time I repeat that Baku's foreign policy is built on the
    basis of specific objectives and challenges to meet, in the first
    place, the national interests of Azerbaijan itself. It's easiest
    to accuse Baku of indecision and a lack of goodwill and much more
    difficult, without resorting to street populism, to analyse the
    situation and argue pragmatically.

    In fact, the Republic of Azerbaijan, which signed an agreement with
    Israel on establishing full diplomatic relations almost 20 years
    ago, has not opened an embassy here, despite numerous requests from
    Jerusalem and calls from Washington following the lobbying of American
    Jewish organizations.

    First and foremost, because of a reluctance to exacerbate the rather
    complex and contradictory relationship with Iran - well, if they open
    an embassy in Israel, these relations may be completely stopped. In
    addition, by making such a move, Azerbaijan would risk losing
    the support of some Muslim countries on life-changing issues. In
    particular, we are talking about the decades of armed confrontation
    with Armenia caused by the occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani

    On the other hand, the lack of an Azerbaijani embassy in Israel
    has almost no effect on economic cooperation and trade between
    our countries, nor on constructive political dialogue between our
    countries. That's why I think that statements by some Russian-speaking
    "experts" who talk about 'the collapse of Azerbaijani-Israeli
    cooperation" are highly irresponsible.

    I can give the assessments of a number of Israeli political analysts
    and experts on Central Asia, who believe that the current leadership of
    Azerbaijan conducts foreign policy independently of Ankara and Tehran,
    and has earned a reputation as a strong and independent player in the
    international arena. The clear position of Azerbaijani President Ilham
    Aliyev on relations with Israel, in particular his refusal to submit
    to the demands of Iran and to cancel the visit of Israeli President
    Shimon Peres to Baku and his refusal to join any anti-Israel campaigns
    cause sincere respect in Israel.

    On the other hand, the Israeli political establishment and, in many
    ways thanks to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, today does not see
    the Republic of Azerbaijan is the same way that it did a few years
    ago. It was Lieberman who managed to convince the public that Israel
    needed not only support from the US and EU, but also the support of
    moderate Muslim countries formed after the collapse of the Soviet
    Union. In 2008, as minister for strategic planning, he did much to
    develop relations with the countries of the former Soviet Union,
    including Georgia and Azerbaijan. And today, just three years later,
    Lieberman's multi-vector policy, as it is called, is the main thrust
    of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and became possible thanks to the
    historic visits of Shimon Peres to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and the
    regular exchange of delegations of Israeli ministers and their Central
    Asian counterparts. The multi-vector policy is already yielding real
    dividends to Israel - in terms of economic relations, votes at the UN
    and advancing the interests of Jewish communities in Muslim countries.

    And yet, knowing the importance of Israeli-Azerbaijani relations, some
    politicians and journalists do their best to reduce them to nothing.

    First and foremost, we are talking about lobbyists who have been
    pushing the idea of the State of Israel recognizing the so-called
    Armenian "genocide". Let me remind you, we are talking about the events
    of 1915 which took place on the territory of the then Ottoman Empire.

    For many years the Knesset observed a silent consensus on the subject.

    To put it simply, an issue fundamentally contrary to the interests
    of the State of Israel was not considered at all. But in the last few
    years, several Knesset members felt that any discussion of this topic
    made good media headlines, as it has wide public and international
    attention and suddenly became consistent supporters of Israel's
    recognition of the Armenian genocide.

    Of course, these are just a few people, while the vast majority of
    Israeli members of parliament support the view expressed a few weeks
    ago by the first deputy foreign minister of Israel, Knesset member
    Danny Ayalon. "There is no chance of the Knesset recognizing the
    Armenian genocide," Ayalon said. "It is impossible. We cannot afford
    to spoil relations with a major strategic partner in the Muslim world
    - Azerbaijan because of controversial historical issues relating to
    events a century ago."

    And yet, proponents of the recognition of the Armenian genocide in the
    Knesset, who are hardly more than five percent of the total number of
    deputies, and those in search of cheap sensationalism in the media,
    continue to force an error on the Israeli public, claiming, inter
    alia, recognition of the Armenian genocide does not impact (?) on
    Israeli-Azerbaijani relations.

    Last but not least this an outright lie or downright ignorance.

    However, I would like to clarify this delicate subject. I am convinced
    that people who are comparing the nightmare of the Holocaust with the
    massacre of Armenians during the events of 1915 are not just ignorant.

    They cynically betrayed the memory of six million European Jews who
    were killed in Nazi death camps, just because they were Jews.

    Armenians had for many years been in conflict with the Ottoman Empire
    and were involved in separatism, treachery and cooperation with the
    Russian army, which was at war with the Ottoman Empire, hoping to
    establish a new "Great Armenia" in Turkey.

    We as Israelis shamefully compare the Holocaust of European Jewry with
    the tragedy of 1915, which was mainly caused by Armenian separatism
    and irredentism.

    But to set aside the misty past, let's talk about this - does the
    Israeli policy of lobbying the recognition of genocide in modern
    Armenia almost every year in the Knesset desecrate the memory of
    the Holocaust? That anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Armenia are
    not a myth, but sad reality is the same as the ideas of the racial
    superiority of the Armenian "Aryans" over the Turkic, Semitic and
    other peoples, which are popular among the masses. Modern Armenia is
    a mono-ethnic state with a population of 500 (five hundred!) Jews,
    the vast majority of whom, including the head of the Jewish community,
    have Armenian surnames.

    At the same time, in neighbouring Azerbaijan there are 30,000 Jewish
    religious and secular communities. Our compatriots hold prominent
    positions in virtually all areas of economic, political and cultural
    life of the country. The chairman of the interparliamentary group
    Azerbaijan-Israel in at the Milli Majlis of the Azerbaijan Republic is
    Yevda Abramov, an ethnic Jew, born in the Jewish village of Krasnaya
    Sloboda. In the last 18 months alone, two large synagogues have opened
    in the capital of Azerbaijan, while the largest Jewish campus in the
    South Caucasus has started operating for 400 children, and its opening
    was attended by President Ilham Aliyev and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva,
    president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

    An integral part of the Jewish community in Azerbaijan is the
    Israel-Azerbaijan International Association (AZIZ), which unites
    about 60,000 Israeli citizens who came from Azerbaijan and do a lot
    to open the eyes of Israeli society to modern Azerbaijan.

    As real Azerbaijani diaspora in Israel, AZIZ has played an important
    and constructive role in maintaining dialogue between our countries.

    The III Congress of Azerbaijanis Worldwide, which will be held at
    the beginning of July this year in Baku and will discuss a strategic
    vision of the Azerbaijani diaspora in the 21st century, has invited
    an AZIZ delegation to take part.

    There is another important aspect in the light of which the very idea
    of Israel's recognition of the notorious Armenian "genocide" prompts
    real bewilderment. \With the establishment of diplomatic relations in
    1992 Armenia is the only strategic ally in the South Caucasus region
    of the State of Israel's most implacable enemy, the Islamic Republic
    of Iran.

    In fact, it is to Iran that Armenia owes its existence after the
    collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The signing of diplomatic relations with Tehran enabled Armaenia in
    the early 1990s to break the transport blockade imposed by Turkey
    and Azerbaijan. Without this "balanced" policy of Tehran, which is
    in fact, treacherous towards Azerbaijan, Armenia would control today
    more than twenty percent of the territory of Azerbaijan.

    A 42-mile section of the Armenian-Iranian border is now the only way
    out of Armenia, which has borders with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia,
    to the outside world. It is through Iran that all transport routes
    now link Armenia with the outside world;

    A bridge across the Aras River, completed in 1996, was the first
    major joint Armenian-Iranian project. But Tehran had a solution in
    1994 during the occupation of Azerbaijani territory. Unbelievable
    but true: Iranian generals and builders remain indifferent as to the
    other side of the Aras while Armenian armed forces destroyed Azeri
    towns and villages and killed their Shia Muslim brothers.

    Put into operation in 1995, the first power line Iran - Armenia brought
    the Armenian energy system out of a state of paralysis, and isolation
    and, more importantly, allowed Yerevan in part to get rid of Russian
    energy coming through Georgia.

    At first glance, the pro-Armenian position in Tehran looks strange.

    Indeed, Iran has approximately 35 million ethnic Shia Azerbaijanis.

    However, to understand the logic of Armenian-Iranian relations,
    it should be understood that for a number of reasons Iran may not
    be objectively interested in strengthening Azerbaijan. Tehran has
    specific objectives related to its national security and territorial
    integrity and, therefore, will never allow the strengthening of
    independent Azerbaijan.

    It is worth noting that, in contrast to Azerbaijan, with which
    Iran has serious differences on a number of fundamental problems,
    including a section of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan's relations with
    the "Zionist entity", etc., contacts between Tehran and Yerevan are
    warm and trusting. In this context we should mention the visit of
    the late president, Heydar Aliyev, to Iran in May 2002. During the
    summit, the national leader of the Azerbaijan people called on Iran
    to oppose the occupation of Azerbaijani land by Armenia. The then
    Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, said no, arguing: "Armenia is
    not Israel, and the Azerbaijanis are not the Palestinians." This is
    the Real Politik of the regime of the Iranian ayatollahs.

    One last caveat, which characterizes the true attitude of Azerbaijanis
    to their southern neighbour. As you know, in their statements for
    foreign consumption Iranian leaders position Iran as a consistent
    "defender of the oppressed and dispossessed Muslims". But at the same
    time, it has a 600-kilometre border with Shia Azerbaijan, which have
    has a million Muslim refugees and lost 20 percent of its own territory
    to Armenian occupation, but is not developing its relations with its
    brothers in Islam, but with the aggressor.

    All these arguments are only for those who insist to the public that
    the Israeli recognition of the Armenian "genocide" does not affect
    its relations with Azerbaijan.

    A wise politician once remarked, not without humour, that Israel and
    Azerbaijan are almost equally unlucky with their neighbours. This
    observation contains not only the truth, but also a proportion of
    bitterness. But this is the reality in which they live, our countries,
    Israel and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

    Two strategic partners interested in strengthening each other.

    Two of countries with a maritime coast, who are not surrounded by
    the most benevolent neighbours.

    Two southern people with a similar mentality and a huge stock of

    These are our countries. And we will not allow them to be at