Azerbaijan: Israel’s reluctant friend

Kevjn Lim writes: A new and perhaps surprising country took center stage recently in the ongoing row over Iran’s nuclear program – Azerbaijan. Citing anonymous “high-level sources” from U.S. diplomatic and intelligence circles, a controversial article in Foreign Policy at the end of March suggested the possibility that Israel might have been proffered the use of Azerbaijani airstrips for any strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The article attracted impassioned rebuttals from officials and observers alike. But the question remains: how did Azerbaijan get sucked into the controversy over Tehran’s nuclear plans in the first place?

Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel developed in earnest 20 years ago, and have grown significantly in depth and scope ever since. With bilateral trade currently hovering around $4 billion, Azerbaijan is Israel’s top trading partner among Muslim states, and the second largest source of Israel’s oil after Russia.

Conversely, Israel represents Azerbaijan’s second largest oil customer, and via the Ashkelon-Eilat Trans-Israel Pipeline, a crucial transit point for Azeri oil flowing to Asia’s growing markets. Israeli companies have also made no secret of their stake in the country’s other key, non-energy sectors, including agriculture and communications. However, it’s the military-defense aspect of bilateral cooperation that has kept Iran on its toes of late. [Continue reading…]

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