Azerbaijan: Israel Diplomatic Trip Tweaks Tehran
May 1, 2013 - 11:34am, by Shahin
Abbasov

- Azerbaijan
- Iran
- Israel
- EurasiaNet's Weekly Digest
- Geopolitics

[image: Azerbaijan works the middle, between Iran and Israel.
(Photo:Israeli Government Press
Office)]
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Mammadyarov (left) meets with Israeli
President Shimon Peres on April 22 in Jerusalem to discuss strategic
relations and Iran. Shortly after the trip to Israel, Azerbaijani National
Security Council Secretary Ramiz Mehdiyev flew to Iran in what many
Azerbaijanis believe was done to sooth an angry Tehran. (Photo: Israeli
Government Press Office)

Azerbaijan in late April crossed a self-imposed `red line' in its relations
with southern neighbor Iran by dispatching Foreign Minister Elmar
Mammadyarov on a visit to Israel, Tehran's arch-foe. Reasons for the timing
of the move are not clear, but, so far, Tehran appears to be biding its
time with a response.

While Israel and Azerbaijan - like Iran, a majority Shi'a Muslim country --
have maintained strong diplomatic, economic and military
tiesfor
years, Mammadyarov's April 21-24 trip was the first time an Azerbaijani
cabinet member had made such a high-profile visit to Tel Aviv.

With one eye seemingly on Iran, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry avoided
attaching the word `official' to the visit. Instead, it cast the
ministerial mission as undertaken within the context of Azerbaijan's status
as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Even so,
the trip had all the markings of an official visit. No documents were
signed, but Mammadyarov met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, among other
senior officials. A statement that Baku would consider opening an embassy
in Israel concluded the mission. `It is a matter of time,' Mammadyarov
said
at an April 26 news conference in Baku.

A few days later, it was time to offer explanations to Iran.

On April 29, Azerbaijani National Security Council Secretary Ramiz
Mehdiyev, who doubles as President Ilham Aliyev's influential
administration chief, flew to Tehran to meet with Iranian President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials. Although the government did
not specify the agenda, many Azerbaijanis believe the trip was taken to
sooth an angry Tehran.

`Mehdiyev went to assure Iran that Baku is not going to host Israeli
military bases or provide its territory for attacks on Iran' in connection
with the international campaign to stop Iranian development of a nuclear
weapon, commented Baku-based political analyst Zardusht Alizade, a
Middle-East specialist.

Reports in American news media outlets in 2012 made just that
assertion,
though they could not be confirmed.

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan
have
never been rosy, but Baku previously has been careful
not
to push its powerful neighbor's patience to the breaking point.

At least since the administration of the late President Heydar Aliyev
(1993-2003), for instance, Tehran's enmity toward the Israeli government
vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvfostered an unofficial taboo on Azerbaijani officials visiting Israel.
Against that backdrop, Vafa Guladze, a former presidential foreign-policy
adviser, deemed Mammadyarov's excursion `revolutionary,' the Turan news
agency reported.

A reason why Baku would want to take a `revolutionary' step at this time
remains unclear. Some speculate that an Iranian call for theannexation of
Azerbaijan , once under Persian
control, raised Baku's ire.

Alizade, though, believes that the visit to Israel has been in the works
for a long time. `Relations in economic, military and diplomatic areas are
so broad and have reached such a high level that it is time for actions,'
he said. Azerbaijan supplies up to 40 percent of Israel's oil needs, or
about 21.7 million barrels, according to official data; foreign trade
turnover between the two countries stands at $4 billion.

The countries also are actively cooperating
on
weaponry and in other military-equipment areas. In 2012, Azerbaijan bought
$1.6 billion worth of Israeli arms. Israeli defense firms also are advising
the Azerbaijani defense-industry ministry on an Azerbaijani-made weapon.

Conceivably with those activities in mind, Mammadyarov emphasized during
his talks with Israeli President Peres that Baku has no interest in the use
of Azerbaijani territory `for military actions against Iran,' The Jerusalem
Post reported.

Baku also subsequently announced that, in conjunction with the Organization
for Islamic Cooperation, it will host in June an international donor
conference for the Palestinian territories, whose statehood Iran
aggressively supports.

Referring to Iran as `the greatest threat to the region,' Peres did not
hide that the Islamic Republic had been among the topics on the table with
Mammadyarov.

If Tehran had been looking for an opportunity to smack Azerbaijan down to
size, it has not taken it yet: Iranian officials have not reacted publicly
to Mammadyarov's Israel trip.

How Mehdiyev described Mammadyarov's trip to his Iranian hosts also is
unknown, although Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported that
Ahmadinejad blamed `Zionist and US intelligenc[e]' for `trying to weaken
our relations.'

Playing to his Iranian audience, the Azerbaijani national security chief
blamed the West for `taking some steps which violate peace and stability
in Azerbaijan,' IRNA reported - an apparent reference to a series of
unsanctioned anti-government protests
earlier
this year.

With the Azerbaijani courtesy call over, Baku analysts do not expect more
to come from Tehran about Mammadyarov's Israeli visit. Distracted by other
concerns, Iran would gain little by pushing back against Azerbaijan, they
believe. `Relations between Baku and Tehran are already very bad. I do not
think that visit to Israel will bring any real changes,' Rauf Mirkadirov, a
political columnist for the Russian-language Zerkalo newspaper, commented
to the Vesti.az news portal.

`They do not have any options,' agreed Alizade, in reference to Iran.
`What can they do?'
http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66911