Azerbaijan is officially ready to take their place in the record books as the first nation of the Shiite Islamic sect to open an Israeli embassy, after Azerbaijan’s parliamentary decision on Friday to move forward with the plans. This contrasts dramatically with the majority Shiite country of Iran and the Shiite terror group Hezbollah, who have long been Israel’s staunch enemies. Of course, Azerbaijan is living proof not all Shia Muslims are the same—the country has had diplomatic relations and cooperation with Israel since the early 1990s—even as the formal approval of the embassy is an exciting step forward.
“The decision to open an embassy reflects the depth of the relationship between our countries. This move is the result of the Israeli government’s efforts to build strong diplomatic bridges with the Muslim world,” said Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Friday in comments released by Israel. “I want to thank [Azeri] President Ilham Aliyev and congratulate the Azeri people who will now be represented for the first time in the State of Israel.”
The move comes as Israeli relations with the Muslim world have expanded significantly with the Abraham Accords peace deals signed with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco. Israel and Azerbaijan have long worked together economically and militarily, with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visiting Azerbaijain last month.
On Sunday, Gantz released a statement saying he spoke with Azeri Defense Minister Colonel General Zakir Hasanov and “thanked him on behalf of Israel’s defense establishment for the important decision taken by the Azeri parliament, to open an embassy in Israel.”
Said Gantz, “I also thanked him for his partnership and commitment to fostering defense relations between Israel and Azerbaijan over the years. This reflects the deep friendship between our countries, which I am certain will develop further and make a positive impact on the region.”
The embassy move might very well have been broached with Gantz during last month’s trip, as a summary of his conversations released by Israel noted that “changes in the Middle East region following the signing of the Abraham Accords,” and “Israel’s developing ties with Turkey and additional countries in the region and the world” were discussed at the time.
Azerbaijan is a neighbor to Iran, and despite shared religious beliefs, the two nations aren’t friendly. In 2012, for example, Haaretz reported that Iran even accused Azerbaijan of assisting Israel’s Mossad spy agency in anti-Iran activities.
Beyond shared security and geopolitical concerns, Israel and Azerbaijan have other ties. Lapid, in his comments on Friday, noted that not only is Azerbaijan an “important partner of Israel,” they are also home to “one of the largest Jewish communities in the Muslim world.”
The ties also look to be personal as well. In his comments on Sunday, Gantz referred to his Azeri counterpart as “my friend.”
In a part of the world where religious wars have been commonplace, Israel and Azerbaijan have been—and will be even more so—proof that peace can still succeed.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, November 20, 2022)