By Arye Green/TPS
Baku, September 5, AZERTAC
Azerbaijan and Israel's strategic relationship, which was established in 1992, has grown and developed significantly over the years, supporting robust trade, tourism and security cooperation.
Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim-majority countries to develop bilateral and economic relations with Israel. Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and some former Soviet republics have done so as well.
Most such countries maintain somewhat tense relations with Israel and the general public is often critical of the ties with the Jewish state. However, Azeri-Israeli ties are much different and engage people from all walks of life across various fields of the economy. The sectors which most benefit from the active economic cooperation are energy, tourism and defense.
In January 2019, the State Border Service of Azerbaijan purchased the Sky Striker drone from Israel's Elbit Systems. Azerbaijan became the first foreign buyer of the Sky Striker, which is capable of long-range, precise, tactical kamikaze strikes.
During his official visit to Baku in December 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Azerbaijan had bought $5 billion worth of Israeli weapons for security and defense purposes.
Commenting on the ties, Netanyahu noted that "there’s something else and unique about this relationship."
“Israel is the Jewish state, it’s a Jewish state. Azerbaijan is a Muslim state, predominantly Muslim population. Here you have an example of Muslims and Jews working together to secure a better future for both of us. And it’s an example that shines against the background of intolerance and lack of acceptance and mutual respect,” he stated.
In 2018, bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to $ 139 million, not including the trade of oil.
Israel's willingness to engage in trade of state-of-the-art weapons illustrates the faith the Israeli government has in Azerbaijan, trusting their military actions will not clash with Israeli security interests in the region.
The bond between the countries is not confined to security and defense and includes joint ventures in various fields.
Azerbaijan is a significant provider of energy to Israel and supplies 40% of its oil needs. In 2016, Netanyahu said Israel is negotiating "not only for the supply of Azerbaijani oil but also imports of Azerbaijani gas to Israel." In 2017 the Israeli ambassador said Israel is considering joining the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which stretches from Azerbaijan to Italy.
The Jewish community in Azerbaijan is the cause of local pride. Azeri Jews and Israeli tourists say there is virtually no anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan's Jewish community has lived there for more than 2,600 years and has been treated relatively well throughout the centuries.
In 2016, during Netanyahu's visit to Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that "the Jewish community is a very active part of our society and it is doing a lot to contribute to the development of the country. This, indeed, is a great factor in our bilateral relations."
In recent years, Israeli tourists have been visiting Azerbaijan in increasing numbers. In 2018, over 40,000 Israeli tourists visited, positioning it in the top 10 countries that visit the unique Muslim Eurasian nation. During the first half of 2019, a total of 24,464 Israeli tourists visited Azerbaijan. If the current trend continues, 2019 is expected to be a record year for Israeli tourists in the country.
The country encompasses west and east, fusing age-old traditions with modern architecture and development, elements that intrigue many Israeli tourists.
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