Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. (Photo Credit: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)
Media reported on 3 March that Israel is set to open a permanent embassy in Turkmenistan, a central Asian country bordering Iran, in the coming weeks.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is expected to travel to Turkmenistan to officially inaugurate the embassy. Located in the capital city of Ashgabat, the embassy will be the closest official Israeli mission to an Iranian border, only some 12 miles away.
The opening of the new embassy is a “move intended to send a message to Iran that Israel is a present and growing influence in the region,” Israel Hayom has reported.
Turkmenistan, a Muslim-majority former Soviet Republic, established relations with Israel at the time of its independence in 1991. In 2013, Israel opened a temporary embassy there, with Shemi Tzur becoming Israel’s first resident ambassador in the Turkmen capital.
That same year, the Jerusalem Post observed that “From a hotel in Turkmenistan’s capital of Ashgabat, according to a saying in Jerusalem, one can see into Iran. This explains the geostrategic importance of these ties for Israel. Other reasons are that Turkmenistan is a predominantly Muslim country and it is extremely rich in gas and natural resources.”
The Jerusalem Post noted further that Shemi Tzur took up his position formally as Israel’s ambassador to Turkmenistan after Israel’s first two candidates were rejected by Turkmenistan for “allegedly being spies interested not in furthering bilateral relations, but in collecting intelligence information on Iran.”
Over the years, Israel and Turkmenistan have signed cooperation agreements in the fields of politics, economy, energy, health, and cyber defense.
Foreign Minister Cohen told Israel Hayom that “relations between Israel and Turkmenistan are important and strategic and are part of the activity aimed at strengthening relations with the entire region. We will continue to promote economic cooperation between the countries, among others, in the fields of health and cyber defense.”
“The inauguration of the embassy building is another sign of the strengthening of relations between Israel and Turkmenistan and marks the 30 years of the establishment of relations between countries,” he said.
The opening of the Israeli embassy in Turkmenistan follows a similar strengthening of ties between Israel and Azerbaijan, another country bordering Iran.
Israel and Azerbaijan have had relations for 30 years, and there has been an Israeli embassy in Baku since 1993, but Baku only opened an embassy in Tel Aviv and appointed an ambassador to Israel last November amid escalating tensions with Iran.
Reuters reported in January that Israel has been a significant military backer of Azerbaijan in recent years, providing diplomatic support for Baku in its standoff with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Azerbaijan also supplies around 40% of Israel’s oil imports. Last year, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian alleged that Israel was establishing a military presence and secret alliance with Azerbaijan.