Muslim-majority Azerbaijan ignores tensions, sends delegation to Israel

Azerbaijan continues to buck conventional Islamic world attitudes toward Israel by prioritizing good relations with the Jewish state.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

May 14th was a historic date in Israel this year, marking the country’s 70th anniversary on the Gregorian calendar and the day on which the Americans moved their embassy to Jerusalem.

It was also the date on which the number of Gazan terrorists killed during Hamas-orchestrated rioting at the border was greatest, resulting in widespread condemnation of the Jewish state by the Muslim world.

One Muslim state, Azerbaijan, refused to join in the anti-Israel chorus, however, putting its national interests first, according to a report in Haaretz.

To that end, the Republic of Azerbaijan sent a delegation of senior officials to Israel from Sunday to Tuesday last week for the first meeting of an inter-governmental economic committee to encourage commercial ties between the two countries. Israel was represented by Minister of Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin.

A longtime friend of Israel

Even though Azerbaijan is a Muslim-majority country, it opened full diplomatic relations with Israel back in 1992, only a year after declaring its own independence. It has enjoyed a robust trade relationship with Israel since then, especially in vital strategic supplies.

Israel had exported some $5 billion worth of armaments by 2016, according to Azeri estimates, while it imports up to 66% of its oil needs each year from Azerbaijan (through a pipeline to Turkey). Other Israeli exports are completely civilian in nature, such as agricultural and medical supplies and high-tech.

Intelligence cooperation

Even more importantly perhaps, the two countries reportedly cooperate on intelligence matters. Both have a keen interest in preventing Iranian expansionism, as the Islamic Republic both hovers on Israel’s doorstep in Syria and shares a border with Azerbaijan. Foreign reports have said that Israel collects intelligence on Iran from Azeri territory.

It was even one of the routes rumored to have been used by Israel to get the huge cache of secret documents on Iranian nuclear efforts out of Iran last month.

The American connection

It is also commonly accepted that part of the reason for establishing relations was to improve Azerbaijan’s standing in Washington, but the Azeris don’t try to keep the issue quiet, as other Muslim countries do.

In April, they openly had an event in the American capital celebrating the two countries’ ties in the context of Israel’s 70th birthday, which was attended by American lawmakers and prominent Jewish organizational figures.

Azerbaijani Ambassador to the United States Elin Suleymanov participated in the most recent AIPAC conference in Washington, and in an interview with JNS he discussed the difference between his country and other Muslim countries’ relationship with Israel.

“Azerbaijan has a 1,500-year-old Jewish community. Jewish life is an integral part of Azerbaijan society. Azerbaijan is well known to be a tolerant place for religions,” he pointed out, adding, “We are happy to be an example of Israeli cooperation with Muslim states.”