By Etgar Lefkovits

Azerbaijan’s ambassador-designate to Israel Mukhtar Mammadov met last week in Jerusalem with Malcolm Hoenlein, the vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israeli officials said on Wednesday.

At the meeting, which came as Mammadov prepares to assume his official post on Thursday, the two discussed a strategic alliance between Azerbaijan and Israel and the Jewish people amid Iran’s threats and violence officials said.

The meeting is part of a broader Azerbaijani policy of outreach to world Jewish leaders, and comes just two weeks after Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev met with the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt, in Munich. Aliyev, who has been targeted by Iranian propaganda over his overt Israel ties, emphasized to Goldschmidt that close relations with the Jewish people is part of “the Azerbaijani way of life.”

Azerbaijan flag seen flying in Baku. . Azerbaijan’s ambassador-designate to Israel Mukhtar Mammadov met last week in Jerusalem with Malcolm Hoenlein to discuss a strategic alliance between Azerbaijan and Israel and the Jewish people amid Iran’s threats and violence. EDWARD CRAWFORD/SOPA/GETTY IMAGES

The meetings with world Jewish leaders are also important to Azerbaijan on the diplomatic world stage, amid the country’s decades-old dispute with neighboring Armenia over the contested mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which occasionally flares up into violence.

For instance, in January, Rabbi Avichai Apel, president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany and vice president of the European Rabbinical Conference, urged the European Union to support Azerbaijan. “This country, which for centuries has warmly embraced the Jews, is located on the front line opposite Iran, and maintains brotherly relations between its Azerbaijani and Jewish citizens without any anti-Semitic incidents,” he said in an address to European Commission leaders in Strasbourg.

“However, this Muslim country, which embraces and opens its heart to the Jews and even established an embassy in Israel, does not receive the proper backing from countries in the European Union.” Israel has operated an embassy in Baku since 1993, the year after relations were established between the two countries.

Indeed, Israel was one of the first countries in the world to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. For Israel, ties with Muslim, oil-rich Azerbaijan—which shares a border with Iran—are of strategic importance, both as a conduit for reconnaissance but also because it supplies Israel an estimated 40 percent of its oils needs and is a leading purchaser of Israeli military hardware. A report in the Israeli daily Haaretz found that nearly 100 flights loaded with Israeli weapons worth billions of dollars were sent to Azerbaijan between 2016 and 2021.

Israeli flag is seen in the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel on December 29, 2022. The meeting between these two are crucial for Azerbaijan on the international diplomatic scene because of the nation’s long-running conflict with its neighbor Armenia over the disputed mountainous area of Nagorno-Karabakh, which occasionally degenerates into violence. JAKUB PORZYCKI/GETTY IMAGES

At the same time, Christian Armenia, which professes to maintain longstanding ties with Israel, has become an ever-larger trade partner of the Islamic Republic, with total annual trade between the two jumping to a planned $3 billion. The challenges and divergent policies are indicative intricate chessboard of geopolitics that is at play as the countries juggle their interests in the region. In the meantime, the intimate Azeri-Israeli relationship is coming out in full public view. 

“Based on our broad-ranging dialogue, I am certain the ambassador will enhance and expand the significant economic, strategic and security relations, as well as people to people exchanges,” said Hoenlein following last week’s meeting. “The ambassador reflects the long standing commitments of Azerbaijan President Aliyev, with whom I have had the privilege of having long, productive and close ties.”

Meanwhile, as ties with Israel have blossomed, Iranian incitement against Azerbaijan has turned to violence. In January, Azerbaijani security forces arrested seven people in connected with a suspected Iranian espionage network, on the heels of a brazen attack on the Azeri embassy in Tehran which killed the chief of security at the diplomatic mission. 

Mammadov will be the first-ever ambassador to the Jewish state from a Shi’ite Muslim country.

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate

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