There has been a strident increase in efforts, recently, by Armenian leaders, at home and abroad, to drive a wedge between the Jewish state of Israel and the Muslim-majority, South Caucasus state of Azerbaijan.
Former vice minister of foreign affairs of Armenia, Arman Navasardyan, called on his government to use “all pan-Armenian state and non-state means to drive a wedge in Azerbaijani-Israeli relations,” in an op-ed published in January by Modern Diplomacy.
Notably, within the last year, there were multiple reports of rabid anti-Israel hysteria emanating from Armenia. And in Israel, hundreds of the 5,600 Armenians who live in Jerusalem staged provocative, even inflammatory rallies against the Azerbaijani-Israeli relationship.
Israel and Azerbaijan have had deep bilateral relations for more than 25 years. Since 1992, the countries have collaborated in the diplomatic, economic, cultural and security realms. Azerbaijan remains one of the few Muslim-majority countries to fully recognize Israel and to normalize diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. It has even been stated that the there is no country in Eurasia with closer or warmer ties to Israel than Azerbaijan. Numerous foreign policy experts have gone further to encompass the globe when describing Azerbaijan as Israel’s closest Muslim partner.
Why are the Armenians trying to stop this flourishing strategic alliance between Jews and Muslims? For starters, the Armenians, due to their occupation of Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, is at war with and feels threatened by Azerbaijan. Armenia asserts that Azerbaijan is making too much profit from the sale of oil to Israel. The largest buyer of Azerbaijani oil on the world market, 40% to 45% of Israel’s oil, originates from Azerbaijan. There have even been discussions about eventually building a gas pipeline spur from an existing pipeline emanating from Azerbaijan and terminating in Turkey and, in so doing, directly connecting Azerbaijan and Israel.
Further, Armenia fears the weapons sold by Israel to Azerbaijan, because Israeli weapons are hi-tech, highly sophisticated, battle tested and directly compete with and even surpass Armenia’s Russian-made weapons.
For example, Azerbaijan recently acquired the LORA (Long Range Attack) missile weapons system from Israel, a highly advanced and proven effective tactical missile. In 2016, it was reported that Azerbaijan had purchased nearly $5 billion in defense equipment from Israel, including the vaunted Iron Dome missile system, which shields Israeli civilians from terrorists, and now, in turn, protect Azerbaijan’s modern cities and their populaces from Armenian missile and artillery attacks.
Armenia, by contrast, is replete with Russian military bases, troops and weapons.
Notably weapons transfers from Russia to Armenia are either given, gratis, to Armenia or provided in loan agreements that see Moscow loaning the necessary funds for Armenia to buy the weapons, further indebting Armenia to Russia. Russian and Armenian leaders have stated outright that they “coordinate” their foreign policy. As such, Armenian leaders know their state is at the mercy of Russia and its impulsive control, and that Russia could shift its support in another direction at any time to serve its own interests.
Recently, Armenia sent a delegation to Israel to work toward closer ties and push for Israeli recognition of the so-called Armenian Genocide.
The move was partly motivated by the recent success of some countries – including Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, and others, for example – to use their good ties with Israel to gain influence with the Trump administration and the United States to some success. However, talks between Israel and Armenia in Israel did not go far.
Part of the challenge that Armenia has in dealing with Israel is that Israeli lawmakers and officials are acutely aware of the scary level of antisemitism that exists in Armenia.
A 2014 report by the Anti-Defamation League showed that the level of antisemitism in Armenia (58% or 1.3 million out of 2.2 million Armenian adults) was the third highest in Europe and the highest among all former Soviet republics and countries in Eastern Europe. Further ADL statistics show Armenians are more antisemitic than Muslim Iranians.
In Armenia, antisemitic books, TV programs and repeated desecration of the country’s Holocaust memorial are all commonplace.
Many Armenians call Jews “ocar,” which means “soap” in Armenian, and is a reference to the Nazi practice of turning corpses of the victims of their extermination camps into soaps, wallets, and lampshades.
By contrast, the vile problem of antisemitism does not exist in Azerbaijan. Since the 5th century, until today, Azerbaijani Jews have lived in peace and prosperity. During the Holocaust, Azerbaijan served as a shelter for European Jews escaping its atrocities.
And, during the Soviet period, Jews played a major role in the intellectual, economic and political life of Azerbaijan, this, following their flight from officially-sponsored Russian pogroms to Muslim Azerbaijan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first visited Azerbaijan in 1997. He then returned in 2016. During the former trip, he lauded the country as “an example of what relations can be and should be between Muslims and Jews everywhere.”
There are seven synagogues in Azerbaijan and a handful of Jewish schools. Jews can, without fear, walk around Azerbaijani cities wearing kippot. There is no fear for Jews in Azerbaijan, as currently seen ubiquitously in France, Germany and throughout Western Europe.
There was significant hope that the 2018 Armenian Velvet Revolution would bring about change in Armenia – domestically and internationally. There were thoughts that Armenia may finally give back Nagorno-Karabakh and pull away from the Kremlin’s tight reins, which would have opened the country to joining the many trade, infrastructure and energy projects that have brought so much prosperity to the other nations of the region. Due to the bellicosity and constant war-footing of Armenia, it has been all but completely left out of the vast economic gains of its neighbors.
But Nikol Pashinyan, who replaced ex-warlord and murderer Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister, is maintaining the country’s ties with Moscow, using the same format and form. Nothing has changed.
Israel, therefore, should not deepen ties with Armenia. Intensification of relations and cooperation by Israeli organizations with Armenia are and will continue to be displeasing to both official Jerusalem and Baku, which considers Israel one of its closest allies.
Armenia supports regional dynamics that threaten Israel, both on the security front by doing the bidding of Russia and Iran, (Armenia has been caught transferring weaponry to Iran, weapons that were tracked by the US and proven to have killed American servicemen, as well as attempted transfers of nuclear material, likely for use in dirty bombs, material the originated from Armenia’s all but defunct, yet still treacherously operating Metsamor nuclear facility) and on the diplomatic front, by calling for and actively working toward a wedge between Israel and one of its closest – if not its closest – Muslim ally, Azerbaijan.
Israel should appreciate and continue to develop friendly and strategic relations with Azerbaijan and not allow any forces to harm these relations. As bilateral relations between Israel and Azerbaijan further develop, they promise to bring ever-more success to both states locally and in the international arena.
The writer is a veteran American-Israeli journalist and vice president of marketing and brand strategy for Israel365, a social impact business.
The original article was published on the Jerusalem Post.