Azeri President Ilham Aliyev stands beside an Israeli drone. (Photo credit: ORYX)
An investigation by Israeli media outlet Haaretz released on 6 March has detailed the strategic relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan, through which Tel Aviv has supplied Baku with billions of dollars worth of weapons in exchange for “oil and access to Iran.”
The investigation cites publicly available aviation data and highlights that over the last seven years, “92 cargo flights flown by Azerbaijani Silk Way Airlines have landed at the Ovda airbase, the only airfield in Israel through which explosives may be flown into and out of the country.”
Azerbaijan has reportedly allowed Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency to establish a presence in the country to “monitor” the situation in Iran, the country’s southern neighbor. It has also set up an airfield for Israel to strike Iranian nuclear facilities from its territory.
In exchange, Azerbaijan receives the “most advanced weapons,” including ballistic missiles, air defense systems, and kamikaze drones.
As a result of this partnership, Azerbaijan has become Israel’s largest oil supplier, while the latter has become the former’s largest arms supplier.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel are “discreet but close,” said Rob Garverick, the head of the political and economic department in the US Embassy in Baku, in 2009. According to Haaretz, the nuclear documents allegedly stolen by Mossad operatives in Tehran in 2018 were “smuggled” to Israel through Azerbaijan.
Iranian officials called the alleged Israeli operation an “orchestrated play.”
The Haaretz investigation comes one day after the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, told reporters on 4 March that any attack against nuclear facilities is “outlawed” when asked a question about Israeli threats against Iranian nuclear sites.
“Of course, we are allowed, and of course, we are doing this … Nothing will prevent us from protecting our country,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response.
Israel’s relationship with Azerbaijan comes within the context of a decades-long territorial dispute between Baku and neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the home of a majority of ethnic Armenians.
In 1988, the parliament in Nagorno-Karabakh called a referendum to be incorporated into Armenia, resulting in the start of a bloody war between the two countries. By 1992, Nagorno-Karabakh had declared itself an independent republic.
In 1994, three years after both countries declared independence from the Soviet Union, a Russian-brokered ceasefire ended the fighting. However, the two sides have yet to come to a lasting agreement, and Nagorno-Karabakh has become a heavy militarized region where Azerbaijani and Armenian troops are divided by a ‘contact line.’
With the Armenian side receiving political support from the Islamic Republic, and with Iran’s close proximity to Azerbaijan, the country is expected to be a suitable partner for Israel.
“Each country finds it easy to identify with the other’s geopolitical difficulties and both rank Iran as an existential security threat,” Haaretz cited Garverick as saying in 2009.
In December last year, Baku said that it would not allow Israel to strike Iran from its territory.