US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently met with the ambassadors of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Pompeo and the Trump administration hope to bring an end to the war between the two countries that began in late September. The conflict, known as the Nagorno-Karabakh War, involves many nations in the region, including Israel.
First, Israel has an interest protecting the 13,000 Jews still living in Azerbaijan. The 2,500-years old Jewish community of this region, known as the Mountain Jews or Juhuro, are fierce Azerbaijanian patriots. Albert Agarunov, for one, became a national hero after being killed in 1992 during the first 1991-1994 round of the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Unconfirmed reports are saying that only a few days ago, an Azeri Jewish officer named Baruch Abdulayub Juhuri was killed in one of the battles over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The decades-old conflict re-ignited over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan claims the area although most living there are Armenian.
The disputed area sits between the two countries. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, this self-governed region of Azerbaijan voted to join Armenia.
The conflict pits often friendly powerhouses against each other. Turkey supports Azerbaijan while both Russia and Iran side with Armenia.
Israel also plays a role. Over the decades, it and Azerbaijan have developed close ties. For Israel, it’s both geopolitical and economic.
“Azerbaijan is a very important country for Israel because it supplies much of Israel’s oil,” Efraim Inbar of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security told CBN News. “It is a country that also has a Jewish community that they are treating very well and it is a Muslim country and we are very much interested in having good relations with Muslim countries. And finally, it borders Iran, and obviously we are interested in looking into Iran.”
Ironically, the alliance with Azerbaijan also puts Israel on the same side as its adversary Turkey. Turkey has been accused of sending jihadist fighters from Syria to fight for Azerbaijan against Syria.
Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Elin Suleymanov confirmed its close relationship to Israel.
“You know, many people will tell you out of the 57 nation member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Azerbaijan is probably the closest friend of Israel,” said Suleymanov. “We have a strong Jewish community – [a] 2600-year-old community.”
“We have Christians. We have Muslims. We live in peace. Azerbaijan is a close friend of Israel,” he continued. “Azerbaijan and Israel not only celebrate this relationship. We are proud of this relationship.”
The relationship includes Israel selling advanced military equipment to Azerbaijan. When the war broke out, Armenia’s ambassador to Israel protested the arms sales to Azerbaijan and left the country.
“The amount of weapons that we are selling to Azerbaijan is very large,” Inbar explained. “President Aliyev of Azerbaijan a few years [ago] said the sum of the sales, of Israeli sales to Azerbaijan is $5 billion, which is, of course, a hefty sum for Israel and it is a useful export market for the Israeli military industry.”
This reportedly includes sophisticated drones that can be a game-changer on the battlefield.
“We buy on the open market, including from Israel. And we’re very grateful to our friends and partners in Israel for being a great partner to us,” said Suleymanov. “Now remember, precision weapons are good in terms of minimizing civilian casualties. They’re targeting only, and only military targets. Azerbaijan has repeatedly said, we have no intention [of] harming civilians. Our goal is to fight with the military, not with civilians.”
Azerbaijan also uses conventional arms bought on the open market.
Armenia says civilian areas have been shelled, forcing many residents to spend the conflict in shelters. Inbar calls the war tragic and hopes to see it end.
“We have nothing against Armenia. We have no dispute with Armenia. The Armenians have a dispute with Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan has a dispute with Armenia and we would love to see those two countries would be able to co-exist in that region. No, we have nothing against Armenia. Armenia was never an enemy of Israel,” he said.
But after two failed ceasefires, the fighting rages on with no end in sight.
–Chris Mitchell and wire services
Reprinted with permission.