Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has started a short-term visit to Azerbaijan. Many Israeli and Azerbaijani mass media have called it historic. During his meeting with the Azerbaijani president, Netanyahu expressed surprise at the improvements observed in Azerbaijan over the last years.
He noted that Azerbaijan and Israel enjoyed friendly relations, especially as Azerbaijan is home to a big Jewish community while Israel is home to thousands of Jews from Azerbaijan. Ilham Aliyev said that the Azerbaijan-based Jewish community played a big role in his country.
According to Netanyahu, Azerbaijan and Israel are developing contacts in all spheres, especially in high technologies and power engineering. On the same day, they signed a number of documents: an agreement on cooperation in standardization and metrology, a convention on avoidance of dual taxation and prevention of tax dodging, a memorandum of mutual understanding on establishment of an inter-governmental commission.
Netanyahu’s visit has received a controversial reaction. Some forces in Azerbaijan and Iran were not happy. One of them is the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, who are against Azerbaijan’s contacts “with the Zionist regime.” “Our brothers in the Muslim world and especially in Palestine will not understand us. We cannot establish contacts with the regime the Palestinians have been fighting with for over 50 years,” the party says.
They in Iran are indignant. According to the Iranian President’s advisor Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran is worried to see that Azerbaijan is getting increasingly closer to Israel. In an interview to Anaj, an Iranian MP said that Netanyahu’s visit was an alarm. “Friendly relations between Azerbaijan and Israel can make Iran even more sensitive to regional processes,” he said.
For Representative of the Supreme Leader in West Azerbaijan Seyed Mehdi Ghoreishi this visit is unacceptable. According to Representative of the Supreme Leader in Ardabil Seyed Hassan Ameli, Israel is interested in Azerbaijan not because of its economy and army but just because it is Iran’s neighbor. Before the visit, Representative of the Supreme Leader in East Azerbaijan Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari said that the Azerbaijani authorities should not let it happen. “Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and Israel is the enemy of Islam. So, we expect the Azerbaijani authorities to prevent the visit,” Shabestari said.
This is not the first such reaction. In 2009, Iran tried to force Azerbaijan to cancel the visit of Israeli President Shimon Peres. For that purpose, two weeks before the visit, Tehran sent Chief of the General Staff of the Iranian Army, General Hassan Firouzabadi to Baku.
But they in Baku ignored Firouzabadi’s warnings and welcomed Peres. In his interview to journalists, Azerbaijani MP, political analyst Rasim Musabekov said: “Iran will have the right to be displeased with Azerbaijan’s contacts with Israel only when it stops its own contacts with Armenia but since it is Armenia’s friend, we will continue improving our contacts with Israel. Iran has no right to lay such claims. Azerbaijan is an independent state and has the right to contact with whomever it likes.”
According to Azerbaijani MP Zahid Oruj, Iran is building strategic relations with Armenia. “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is going to visit Yerevan. I can’t advise him on this matter. I can only note that despite its status of a defender of Muslims worldwide, Iran is not showing the same attitude towards the occupation of Azerbaijani lands as it shows towards the occupation of the Palestinian lands. We will not let anybody turn Azerbaijan into a springboard against Iran. Azerbaijan has always been friendly to Iran. Now it is for Iran to decide if it wants to be our friend,” Oruj said, adding that Azerbaijan will continue strengthening its relations with Israel.
According to Azerbaijani MP Gudrat Gasanfuliyev, Iran has called Armenia its closest ally. “The Iranians keep asking us why we are cooperating with the Israelis. We are buying arms from them so as to liberate our lands. And why are they cooperating with the Armenians? By doing this, they are acting against us,” Gasanfuliyev said.
In contrast, Spokesman of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Hikmet Hajiyev sees no problems in Azerbaijani-Iranian relations. “They are developing and I see no changes here,” he said.
He may be true but the fact is that Netanyahu’s visit has driven a wedge between Baku and Tehran.
Maksud Talibli (Baku), specially for EADaily