The Republic of Azerbaijan since 1993 has been fostering its balanced foreign policy. Due to great political ability of the former President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan became one of the outstanding countries amongst the Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) and today his ideas are carried on by the pragmatic leader of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. Today Azerbaijan has comprehensive and deep relations not only with Western powers (Europe and the US), but also with eastern powers including Russia and China.
Such rational function is also implemented in the diplomatic relations with Israel and Iran. Obviously that Iran has declared Israel its enemy since 1979, and both countries continue to threaten each other. Therefore in some cases, Azerbaijan’s friendly relations with anti-Iranian countries, particular with Israel irritates Iran, where regime claims that Israel aims to jeopardize the security of its country through territories of neighbor states.
Despite warnings from official Tehran to Baku to halt relations with Israel and the United States, it has been contrarily keeping progress in the relations with both Tal-Aviv and Washington. Even though strong collaboration with Israel, Azerbaijan has never been interested in aggravating relations with Iran. While Iran is important for Azerbaijan in the fields of economy, trade, industry and culture, Israel holds significant position in the fields of security, military and technology.
By the way, Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim countries has robust mutual relationship with Israel. Israel is one of the more powerful and inviolable states in the Middle East has political and economic interests in South Caucasus and Caspian region. Azerbaijan is considered necessary and significant partner by Israeli political and military elites.
Azerbaijan shares borders with Iran, and commonalities in both countries have common linguistic, cultural, religious and traditional values. Azerbaijan is second largest Shia country after Iran, but there is strong secularism in this country.
Diplomatic relations with Iran
Iran was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991, and diplomatic relations between neighboring countries were established in 1992.
While looking through 27 years of diplomatic cooperation between Iran and Azerbaijan, we could see that series of agreements and numerous documents have been signed are positive signs for the development of bilateral relations. However, there were also negative developments in the history of diplomatic relations between two countries, which brought cooperation to low.
In 2000, an Azerbaijani ship was attacked by Iran’s vessels while it was carrying out oil exploration in the disputed area in the south of Caspian Sea. As a result of this accident, the relations between both countries were strained, at the same time Iran’s jets were violating air space of Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan was not left alone as Turkey and the United States stood behind Baku with forcing Iran to cease threats to Azerbaijan.
Furthermore, there happened next aggravation in the diplomatic relations between two sides in 2012, when more than 22 spies of Iran were arrested by the National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Since Hassan Rouhani came to power in Iran, serious and firm steps have been taken by both Tehran and Baku in attempt to redevelop bilateral relations. The government officials of two neighboring countries have engaged in bringing bilateral cooperation to high level as numerous problems have been resettled in the diplomatic relations. The President of Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani and the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev have attached great necessity to the expansion of the bilateral relations in the spheres of economy, finance, industry, trade and energy. Thus, Tehran and Baku have signed the dozens of agreements in order to develop relations in these fields, and both sides also have been engaged in the implementing significant projects on the development of the construction, industry and energy.
Trade turnover between Iran and Azerbaijan amounted to $600 million, which includes food products, industrial products, construction materials and other products. In addition, both sides have plan to exceed trade turnover to 2$ billion in the next future. Iran put investments in Azerbaijan has reached 3.4$ billion. Moreover, more than 1000 Iranian companies operating successfully in Azerbaijan take part in industry, construction, services, communication, trade, transport, agriculture and other spheres.
Every year, the representatives of Azerbaijan-Iran State Commission for Economic, Commercial and Humanitarian Cooperation come together to discuss prospects for the comprehensive development of bilateral relations in all fields. Joint projects implemented by Iran and Azerbaijan on the foundation of the industrial district and the pharmacy plant in Azerbaijan as well as the construction of four cargo terminals and the industrial park in Iran are best indicators of the development in bilateral relations. There is also Iran trade center in Baku, which is responsible to create durable contact among businessmen of both countries to improve trade relations.
Azerbaijan is vital hub for Iran to reach larger regional markets. The transportation between Iran and Russia passing through Azerbaijan plays significant role in International North-South Corridor designed by India. Obviously, the North-South Corridor has mutual fruitful impacts on the development of the economy of Iran and Azerbaijan, and this is main reason why Tehran and Baku are interested in the working on projects connected with the construction of facilities for the international corridor. The construction of the Qazvin-Rasht-Astara (Iran)-Astara (Azerbaijan) railway is one of such facilities.
During Hassan Rouhani’s last official visit to Azerbaijan in 2018, the series of agreements were inked by the government officials of Iran and Azerbaijan on energy, industry, economy and finance, culture and art, youth and sport affairs as well as the construction of the railway. Rouhani estimated the importance of the high-level cooperation between two neighboring states at the ceremony event for signing agreements, as well he touched on necessity for the preservation of the security in region.
According to the Ministry of the Economy of Azerbaijan and Iran, both sides are expected to sign agreements on monetary, finance, banking ties along with expanding economic cooperation within the framework of the International North-South Corridor.
At the end, Iran and Azerbaijan have been diplomatically taking part in the promotion of the trilateral and quadrilateral formats: Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia, Azerbaijan-Iran-Turkey, Azerbaijan-Iran-Georgia and Azerbaijan-Iran-Georgia-Turkey.
Diplomatic relations with Israel
Diplomatic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel is very strong in fields of the security, military and technology. Obviously that Israel plays profitable and constructive role in the reinforcement of the military and the security of Azerbaijan. Israel has equiped Azerbaijan army with advanced military technology. In the last decade Israel has sold Baku broad variety of nonlethal and lethal weapons – from small firearms, armoured vehicles, and mortars, to UAVs of various sorts, radars and air defence systems or rocket artillery systems.
Israel-Azerbaijan diplomatic relations are not only based on the security and military, but also both of them have firm cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, energy and culture. While Azerbaijan is exporting oil and gas to Israel, Israel’s companies are selling various goods and technological services to Azerbaijan. Technologies produced by Israel that are very attractive to people in Azerbaijan.
Since 1993, Israel has been engaged in large-scale projects in the Caspian Sea. Israel’s energy policy in the Caspian Sea is based on strategic interests aimed at securing pipeline routes from Azerbaijan to Turkey and Europe.
Moreover, numerous agreements were signed between the government of the State of Israel and Azerbaijan on energy, agricultural, trade and environmental fields, and all these agreements has led to strengthening fruitful cooperation between both countries.
In December 2016, the prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu visited Azerbaijan, and he discussed many issues on future cooperation with the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev.
Following the a one-on-one meeting between the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister of the State of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, the government representatives of the State of Israel and the Republic of Azerbaijan signed agreements on bilateral cooperation in the spheres of standardization and metrology, agriculture, taxes and joint commission.
At the end, the existence of current stable and equal situation for ethnic Jews in Azerbaijan is important stimulus for the development of the cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan. Jews in this country are granted fundamental rights to promote their own cultural, ethnic and religious heritage as well as get education in their own language.
From view of numerous foreign experts, who involved in researching and analyzing the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, fostering balanced foreign policy is successful strategy in the diplomacy of Azerbaijan. Compare to Armenia and Georgia in South Caucasus, Azerbaija would rather to strengthen diplomatic relations with all great and the middle powers, such as the United States, the European Union, Iran, Israel, Russia and China. Instead of joining any alliance, Azerbaijan joined Non-Aligned Movement, and Baku has taken over the chairmanship of the movement in this year.
Two middle powers in the Middle East – Iran and Israel have had strategic interests in the South Caucasus for the long-term. Therefore, Azerbaijan has been always trying to preserve diplomatic relations with both Tehran and Tal-Aviv. While Iran is an important neighbor of Azerbaijan, Israel is a significant partner.
Finally, from my opinion, coronavirus recently hitting most countries in the world, including Iran and Israel, will not have damaged economic and business ties Azerbaijan has with Tehran and Tal-Aviv.
*Yunis Abdullayev is from Azerbaijan and works as journalist and researcher at Eurasia Diary portal, which operates in five languages- English, Azerbaijani, Russian, Arabic and Turkish.