After Hamas shocked Israel with an attack that slaughtered more than 1,400 Jews, countries chose sides. The United States and much of Europe stood against terrorism. Iran, Lebanon, Russia, Turkey, and student groups at Harvard University did not.
One real surprise was Azerbaijan. Israel has invested in Baku’s military for decades. Israeli officials and many American Jews trumpet the strategic wisdom of partnering with Azerbaijan, arguing that Baku holds firm to secularism and remains a bulwark against Iranian interests in the region.
As with Turkey two decades ago, perhaps they were too optimistic.
Rather than endorse Israel’s right to uproot the terrorists responsible for the single-greatest murder of Jews since the Holocaust, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov appears at best to embrace moral equivalence, and at worst to side with Hamas. Speaking at an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, he declared, “Azerbaijan is committed to Islamic solidarity.” He continued to demand Israel withdraw to the 1949 Armistice lines and re-divide Jerusalem. Under such circumstances, Bayramov’s embrace of a two-state solution may not represent the support Israel assumes — many rejections say they will recognize a Palestine alongside an Israel in which Arabs outnumber Jews.
Azerbaijan’s tilt toward Hamas in the current crisis comes after Hamas congratulated Azerbaijan on its victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, an action that led to the mass exodus of the region’s millennia-old indigenous Christian community. “We congratulate Azerbaijan for its victory in the battles and regaining the occupied territory,” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Abu Zuhri continued to “hail” the Turkish support both Azerbaijan and Hamas received in their respective fights against Armenians and Jews. Herein lies the warning that those embracing Azerbaijan-Israel ties, or even Azerbaijani ties with the West, should heed.
More than two decades ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan entered Turkish leadership. He assured American and European diplomats that he would prioritize pragmatic relations with the United States, Israel, and the West over the Islamist ideology that had marked his past.
For a few years, it looked like Erdogan might keep his word. He focused on the economy and publicly stated he wanted good relations with all neighbors. Only after he consolidated power and hobbled any remaining opposition did Erdogan show his true colors. Today, Turkey is a terror sponsor in all but formal designation. The Jewish community he and others pointed to as a symbol of Turkish open-mindedness has fled the country. Those who remain cower in fear as Erdogan lends political, diplomatic, and even military support to Hamas.
A decade ago, an Azerbaijani diplomat apologized to me; no longer would the Azerbaijan embassy invite me to its annual Hanukkah reception or other embassy meetings. I was on a list of Jewish Americans the Turkish government demanded be blacklisted, due to my criticisms of Turkey’s autocratic turn. I cared little about the receptions, and I tend to avoid all embassy gatherings like the plague, but it was eye-opening nonetheless, as it seemed to acknowledge the subordination of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy to Turkish diktats.
Today, those in Washington and New York charmed into silence by the Azerbaijani regime may find that President Ilham Aliyev has simply followed the path hewn by Erdogan. An insincere pragmatism and cynical outreach to American Jews and conservative think tanks is followed by a hard turn toward reactionary and rejectionist ideologies.
As Azerbaijan shifts closer to Hamas, the major questions Israel should ask is whether the weaponry they provided Baku for use against Armenians may end up being turned against Israel itself, perhaps via Palestinian groups, in the service of the Azerbaijani regime’s new emphasis on Islamic solidarity.
Now a 19FortyFive 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, 2005).