Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan accepted Israel's help
After a month and a half of fierce fighting over Karabakh and surrounding Armenian-occupied districts, Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to a final ceasefire on November 10. The deal leaves all areas Azerbaijani forces recaptured under Baku’s control. Azerbaijan’s decisive battlefield victories owe to multiple factors, but among them was use of advanced weaponry purchased from Israel as well as the country’s political support to Baku, The Jamestown Foundation writes in the article Israel Delivers Aid to Azerbaijan: Background and Implications.
On October 25, Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, George Deek, visited Ganja city to offer condolences to civilian victims of Armenian rocket attacks targeting areas beyond the Karabakh conflict zone. Simultaneously, Israel delivered humanitarian aid, including medical equipment, to Azerbaijan. Notably, the only other country that made the same gesture was Turkey, whose relationship with Azerbaijan is formulated as “one nation, two states”.
Armenia, in turn, rejected Israel’s offers of humanitarian aid. In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan angrily declared, “I propose that Israel should send that aid to the mercenaries and to the terrorists as the logical continuation of its activities.” He baselessly accused Israel of siding with “mercenaries, Islamic terrorists, and Turkey” and “active engagement in the [Karabakh] conflict”.
The rebuke coming out of Yerevan stemmed in large part from Israel’s years-long military-technical cooperation with Azerbaijan as well as refusal to halt arms exports to Baku amidst the war. In protest, Armenia recalled its ambassador to Israel on October 1, after just two weeks of having opened the embassy.
Israel tends not to openly advertise its military supplies to Azerbaijan. Yet even as early as 2016, it was predictable that Israeli weapons exports would change the balance of power in the region. It was Israeli drones that heralded this technology’s battlefield superiority and effectiveness to Baku during the April 2016 Four-Day War.
Last month, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a motion to ban arms sales to Azerbaijan, and former Israeli president Dalia Itzik sent a letter of support to Aliyev amidst the fighting in Karabakh.
Regular direct Baku–Tel-Aviv flights have been operating for many years. And in May 2020, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin openly asked his Azerbaijani counterpart to open the embassy soon, echoing the same call from Ambassador Deek back in January. Such gestures showcase the significance Israel clearly attaches to Azerbaijan. Thus, last month’s humanitarian aid from Israel to Ganja was so notable not for its material value but rather the politics and symbolism it carried.
Illustratively, during his visit to Baku in 2016, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed Azerbaijani-Israeli relations as exemplifying “what relations can be and should be between Muslims and Jews everywhere”. Moreover, Jewish-American Rabbi Mark Schneier, the president of the Washington-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, told the Baku Intercultural Forum in 2019 that improving attitudes to and relations with Jews and Israel in Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and others, “is a direct result of Azerbaijan”.
Considering Israel’s volatile relations with Turkey, Turkic Azerbaijan can serve as a potential conduit for normalizing the diplomatic relationship with Ankara.