Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian’s recent visit to Israel has given experts grounds for forecasting a breakthrough in the Armenian-Israeli relations.
But the key problem here is that this breakthrough may damage Armenia’s ties with Iran. For the Iranians, Israel is the biggest enemy in the region and one of the biggest obstacles in their relations with Azerbaijan.
Through scandals and diplomatic protests
Nalbandian visited Israel on the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to official sources, the sides expressed commitment to enlarge their contacts but there is no information about any specific documents signed. So, we can qualify this as a reconnaissance visit – similar to the July visit of Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tsachi Hanegbi to Yerevan.
During that visit, the sides signed two documents: a visa waiver for diplomats and a convention on avoidance of double taxation of incomes and property. A Knesset delegation visited Yerevan shortly afterwards.
Armenian-Israeli relations came into the spotlight after the April 2016 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, when the Azerbaijanis actively used Israeli kamikaze drones.
The Armenians were displeased to know that the Azerbaijanis had a lot of Israeli arms in stock and even warned the Israelis that they might provide the Iranians with information about their shot-down Israeli drones. Armenia’s Ambassador to Egypt Armen Melkonyan met with the Israeli’s Foreign Ministry’s Eurasian Department Dan Orian and said that Armenia was extremely displeased with the fact that Azerbaijan used Israeli arms.
The Israeli authorities replied that they were ready to sell their arms to Armenia, but, according to Armenia’s former Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan, the Armenians refused to buy Israeli arms just because they did not need them.
Armenian mass media mentioned Israel again when they received a report that Israeli Aeronautics Defense Systems was going to sell Azerbaijan Orbiter 1K unmanned aerial vehicles and had agreed to test them against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. As a result, the Israeli Defense Ministry started an investigation and suspended the $20mn contract.
The Armenian authorities urged Israel to inquire into the situation. “They are obliged to do this according to international and humanitarian laws,” Chairman of the Armenian Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee Armen Ashotyan said.
Iran may be displeased
Armenia’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Navasardyan believes that Armenian-Israeli rapprochement may affect Armenian-Iranian relations. “But we still need to develop our relations with Israel. Armenian-Israeli relations are the business of our two states and is not aimed against anybody else,” Navasardyan said.
He believes that this cooperation will benefit both sides. “Israel is a regional power with an annual budget of $90bn. If we like, we can find lots of common grounds in very different spheres. Israel has huge experience in contacts with Diaspora, has modern technologies in farming and efficient education, health care and defense systems,” Navasardyan said.
According to Head of the Noravank Political Studies Center Karen Veranyan, Armenia may become a bridge between Israel and Iran. “We can attract Israel as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, an organization with a multibillion market,” Veranyan said.
He believes that Nalbandian’s meetings in Israel will pave the way for a breakthrough in Armenian-Israeli relations.
According to Navasardyan, the sides should first open embassies. “I am sure that Nalbandian discussed this issue during his visit as without embassies inter-state relations are like a distance marriage,” Navasardyan said.
Experts believe that Armenia is embarking on a dangerous path. Iran is the only regional state that has borders with Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. So, when contacting Israel, the Armenians are forced to keep Iran in mind.