Baku to formalise ties with Tel Aviv but strikes 'balance' with office in Ramallah

Baku to formalise ties with Tel Aviv but strikes 'balance' with office in Ramallah
Israel pursues to counter Iran by advancing close strategic relations with Azerbaijan, the UAE, Bahrain, and other regional countries. 
4 min read
15 December, 2022
Trade between Israel and Azerbaijan has continually grown since 1995. [Getty]

The Republic of Azerbaijan will soon open a representative office in Ramallah, Palestinian officials confirmed. The move is in conjunction with the imminent opening of an embassy in Tel Aviv. 

A source at the Palestinian foreign ministry confirmed to The New Arab that both sides are "finalising formal steps" and preparations are underway to open a representative office for the republic of Azerbaijan in Ramallah. 

"It is part of the diplomatic manoeuvring called by the president to muster support for the Palestinian cause," the source at the Palestinian foreign ministry said. 

Baku's decision to open a representative office in Ramallah is a "balancing" act, Rusif Huseynov, a researcher at a Baku think-tank, told TNA, adding that even with the strategic partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan, "Baku does not forget about Palestine either."

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Azerbaijan has had open relations with Israel since it broke away from the former Soviet Union but stopped short of opening an embassy in Tel Aviv. 

"The thaw between Israel and numerous Muslim-majority countries following the famed Abraham Accords is changing the geopolitical picture in the region, allowing [Baku] to act more freely vis-à-vis Israel," Huseynov added. 

Last month, The Azerbaijani parliament adopted a resolution to open an embassy in Tel Aviv. President Ilham Aliev later endorsed it. 

Azerbaijan will be the first country with a Shia majority and a Shia government to open an embassy in Israel. In the Israeli psyche, a significant barrier has been crossed, given its hostile relations with Iran.  

Israel recently formalised diplomatic relations with the gulf kingdom of Bahrain, another Shia-majority country ruled by the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa royal family. 

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Azerbaijan, once a republic in the former Soviet Union, declared independence in 1991, mere months before the official dissolution of the Moscow-based communist regime. 

Trade between Israel and Azerbaijan has continually grown since 1995. 

In 2020, Israel's main exports to Azerbaijan were broadcasting accessories, planes, helicopters, and video displays. At the same time, Azerbaijan's main export to Israel is crude petroleum. 

Baku's ties with Tel Aviv proved their worth when it fought a war, employing state-of-the-art weapons, against its eastern neighbour Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. 

"Israel became one of the key suppliers of weaponry to Azerbaijan helping it liberate its formerly occupied lands in Karabakh," Husynov said. 

Between 2016-20, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a conflict and armaments think-tank, 69% of Azerbaijan's major arms imports came from Israel. These included loitering munitions, surveillance uncrewed aerial vehicles, guided missiles and ballistic missiles - all of which were used in the 2020 war with Armenia. 

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Baku's decision to open a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv came out of many considerations. First, the Azeri military's gains in the six weeks of war with Armenia were partly owed to Israel. Second, the advent of the Abraham Accords, which formalised relations between Israel and several Arab countries, made it much easier for Baku to announce the move. Lastly, Israel has had an ambassador in Baku since 1994, so this would be the moment to reciprocate. 

Baku also calculated, in the same way, some Arab countries have, that relations with Israel would surely make political headway in Washington and advance their interests. 

A pair of low-rank representative offices opened in Israel before the Azeri parliament agreed to formal ties with Israel. 

"In the last year and a half, Azeri tourism and trade offices have opened in Israel, and we hope that the Azeri embassy will open soon." Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat told TNA

"The relations between Israel and Azerbaijan are very good and even strategic," Haiat noted, with Iran most probably in mind. 

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Iran shares a 765-kilometre border with its northern neighbour Azerbaijan. Moreover, roughly 16% of the overall population of the Islamic Republic of Iran are ethnic Azeris, which amounts to more Azeris in Iran than in Azerbaijan. 

"Tehran's relations with Baku have long been uneasy," says Trita Parsi from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington think tank that encourages diplomatic engagement in conducting US foreign policies.  

"Rooted in fears that the Azerbaijani government would seek to fuel cessationist sentiments amongst the Azeri minority in Iran," he added. 

The Middle East pundit, Trita Parsi, told TNA that Iran's worries deepened with Baku's increasingly close relations with Israel, "which has made no secret of its desire to stoke such cessationist sentiments as part of the larger Israeli-Iranian rivalry."

Israel pursues to counteract Iran by advancing close strategic relations with Azerbaijan, the UAE, Bahrain, and other regional countries.