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Azerbaijan: Israel’s ‘Oil For Arms’ Quiet Friend

Via Middle East Eye

While many Muslim-majority states have condemned Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, Azerbaijan stands out for its relative quiet. Baku, which will soon attract more global attention as it prepares to host Cop29 in November, has long enjoyed closer ties to Israel than many of its near neighbors. In recent years, the friendship has blossomed further.

Israel is now the top destination for Azeri crude oil, while key weaponry for Baku’s victory in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war was supplied by Israel. But ties are driven by more than just material benefits, with shared geopolitical concerns, especially regarding Iran, further oiling the relationship.

Israel calls Azerbaijan a “strategic partner”, enjoying close historical ties. When Azerbaijan declared independence in 1991, Israel was one of the first states to recognise the new state. A small Jewish community in Azerbaijan, of between 7,000 and 16,000 people, ensures a cultural connection, but the political relationship has been the priority.

Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli premier to visit Azerbaijan, in 1997, and since then trade and security cooperation has increased. By the mid-2000s, Azerbaijan had become Israel’s fifth-largest trading partner, with oil headed to the eastern Mediterranean and weaponry and other military material headed to the Caspian Sea.

Today, Azerbaijan, alongside Kazakhstan, supplies 60 percent of the crude oil Israel uses.  

No criticism of Israel

Israel believes that having a Muslim-majority state as a partner might reduce its diplomatic isolation in the Muslim world. This has been particularly pronounced since the Gaza war began.

While most Muslim-majority states have been vocal in their criticism, the government of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has been surprisingly quiet. Aliyev met Israeli President Isaac Herzog on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in February, and there has been no outpouring of public criticism of Israel since the Gaza war began.

Baku-based journalist and analyst, Rovshan Mammadli, even reports a “de facto ban on protests against Israel” by Aliyev’s authoritarian government. 

Baku is not unconcerned with the suffering of the Palestinians. It recognizes Palestine and hosts a Palestinian embassy. It has been a vocal supporter of the two-state solution and, since the war broke out, supported UN resolutions calling for ceasefires.

But there has been a conscious balance to Baku’s line: expressing sympathy for the Palestinians without excessively criticizing Israel. For Baku, Gaza falls behind more proximate concerns, for which Israel has proven a useful ally.

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Middle East Eye

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