A Haaretz investigation published on Monday reports that more than 90 Azerbaijani cargo planes have landed at a southern Israeli air base over the past decade. The planes allegedly brought some $5 billion-worth of Israeli weapons and explosives back to Azerbaijan. In exchange, Israel receives Azerbaijani energy and access to Iran — if Israel chooses to strike militarily at Iran’s nuclear program, it might use Azerbaijan’s airfields.
A Complex Conflict
This exchange might seem like a good deal right now, but in the long term, the cost to Israel will be far higher than any benefit the Jewish state receives.
Israel has a history of collaboration with Baku. Its drones were instrumental to Azerbaijan’s victory in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. Azerbaijan’s attack caught not only the Armenian government in Nagorno-Karabakh by surprise, but it also represented a U.S. intelligence failure. Jerusalem may see the Azerbaijani victory as a sign of a successful relationship, but precedent matters.
The Nagorno-Karabakh dispute grew around the territory’s referendum for independence and secession from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union fell. The United States, like much of the world, discounts this and sees Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory based on the gerrymandering undertaken by Josef Stalin a century ago. The legal situation is murkier: Not only was Nagorno-Karabakh’s referendum legal under the Soviet constitution, but when Azerbaijan reasserted its own independence from Moscow, it explicitly embraced pre-Soviet borders that omitted Nagorno-Karabakh.
At the time of Azerbaijan’s 2020 attack, diplomats from the OSCE Minsk Group chaired by Russia, France, and the United States were finalizing a proposed diplomatic solution to the dispute. They proffered a gradual Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani districts occupied by Armenia in exchange for security, as well as deployments of peacekeepers from neutral countries, perhaps drawn from Scandinavia.
By empowering Azerbaijan to impose a solution over disputed territory absent any consideration of demographic realities, the Netanyahu government affirms the same kinds of positions taken by rejectionist states and many European diplomats who discount any right Israel has to defensible borders. To discount any Armenian right to Nagorno-Karabakh and set aside the importance of protecting Armenian cultural heritage from destruction is to similarly forfeit any Israeli claim to Jewish religious and heritage sites in the West Bank, or any ability to complain when Palestinian groups bulldoze archaeological sites.
Israel also risks forfeiting its moral claims. Symbolism matters. Azerbaijan launched its surprise attack on the 100th anniversary of the Ottoman Turkish invasion of Armenia. That was no coincidence. Azerbaijani officials, like their Turkish benefactors, continue both to deny the Armenian genocide and then, with no sense of irony, pledge to finish the job. In 2005, Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalybov, for example, told a visiting German delegation, “Our goal is the complete elimination of Armenians. You, Nazis, already eliminated the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, right? You should be able to understand us.” Fifteen years later, Qarabag FK Soccer Club’s Nuran Ibrahimov wrote, “We must kill all Armenians – children, women and the elderly. We need to kill them without making a distinction. No regrets. No compassion.” In his quest to delegitimize his neighbor, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev himself increasingly sounds like late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
It is good to say (and mean) “never again.” Israel must stand firm against those who would delegitimize and eradicate Jews. It is wrong, however, to undermine others peoples’ quest to avoid renewed genocide — even to do so in the service of some realpolitik-rooted logic.
Morality matters in international affairs. Israel’s previous compromises continue to haunt the country. During the apartheid era, Israel engaged in military trade with South Africa. At the time, Israel had few friends, and its diplomats might have rationalized they had little choice. While it is unfair to suggest Israel was alone in trading with the racist regime — South Africa got its oil primarily from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman — had Jerusalem been more discerning, it might not face such episodes such as its recent expulsion from an African Union conference. The African National Congress is neither willing to forgive nor to forget.
Today Israel has a choice. Thanks to the Abraham Accords and the development of gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, it need not rely on an increasingly erratic Azerbaijan, which functions as Aliyev’s personal fiefdom and is bent on bloody conquest. Jerusalem need not cut its ties, but there is nothing that Baku provides that Abu Dhabi cannot. The difference is that an embrace of Abu Dhabi will not create diplomatic and strategic precedents that will eventually undermine Israel’s security needs and the protection of Jewish cultural heritage.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave,
March 7, 2023 at 8:15 pm
A lot of fair points raised. This should be subjected to an extensive debate.
I have heard both sides [Azeris and Armenians] make stronger cases than what is presented here.
And it should not be unmentioned that Armenia has long been allied with both Moscow and Tehran.
That said, there appears to be an opening to pry Armenia away from that axis. As much as I loathe Nancy Pelosi, I couldnt help but cheer her on as she stepped in as a peacemaker during the last flare up between Azeri and Armenia after Russia failed to aid Armenia in stopping the fighting.
Furthermore, An alternate explanation for the arms to the Azeris from Israel is that there may be a need for Israel to strike Iran’s nuke facilities in the not too distant future, and the Iranians may see the Azeris as culpable.
In that scenario, Loading them up on weapons makes sense.
OR, perhaps those weapons are meant for Mossad teams based in Azerbaijan to strike inside Iran.
Time will tell what the actual answer is.
March 8, 2023 at 7:36 am
Was the word Palestine or West Bank or Gaza or. occupation mentioned by American Enterprise . God forbid
March 8, 2023 at 6:36 pm
Don…There is no such thing as Palestine. The West Bank and Gaza are indeed occupied, but not by Israel. You bought the BS…Lock, Stock, and Barrel.
Which American Enterprise do you refer to? What do you mean by that.
You sound like you enjoy Moosing Zoober?
April 2, 2023 at 10:42 pm
Turks came from central Asia about a thousand years ago and since then they have been in the business of constant ethnic cleaning.
What we call Turkey today was Byzantine Anatolia, populated with Greeks and Armenians.
Israeli propaganda depicts Islamic regime of Iran as a genocidal regime. In Reality Iran has never called for any genocide. All it calls for is the end to the “law of return” regime in Israel that gives preferential treatment to Jewish immigrants over those who have been living there for hundreds of years, that is Muslims, Christians and Jews native to the land.
Israel once again shows it has no morals for siding with one of the only truly genocidal regimes in modern time.