Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, has arrived in Azerbaijan where he has met with President Ilham Aliyev in Baku as part of efforts to strengthen bilateral ties and to confront mutual perceived threats from Iran.
The Azerbaijan trip follows the opening of an Israeli embassy in March. Cohen told Azerbaijan’s Trend News Agency, “I have come from Israel to Azerbaijan with the largest delegation ever. The relations between Azerbaijan and Israel are strategic. That is why I decided to come to your beautiful country after the opening of the embassy in Israel.”
He also said, “We see Azerbaijan as a strategic partner” and said agreements will be signed on innovation, cyber security and education.
Following his meeting with President Aliyev, the Israeli diplomat said in a statement that the two spoke about “our shared strategic regional challenges, especially regional security and the fight against terrorism.” Prior to flying, Cohen noted that the country’s shared border with Iran “makes our relations highly important and with great potential.”
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also mentioned in its statement that Azerbaijan is a “Shia Muslim country, at the head of a delegation of 30 Israeli companies.”
Cohen will be travelling on to Turkmenistan next, where he is expected to open an Israeli embassy, becoming the first Israeli Foreign Minister to enter the Central Asian country in nearly three decades. It will be the closest Israeli embassy to Iran, as the country’s capital, Ashgabat, is 15 miles from the Turkmenistan-Iran border.
It is hoped by Israel that Azerbaijan will allow it to use bases on its soil to launch reconnaissance flights over Iran and to send intelligence operatives into the country to disrupt its nuclear programme. “In case Israel does decide to carry out airstrikes on Iranian reactors and plants, access to Azerbaijani bases would make that task far more feasible,” reports The Times of Israel.
However, last month recently appointed Azerbaijani ambassador to Israel, Mukhtar Mmmadov, denied reports that his country would allow Israel to use its air bases as a refuelling base to carry out potential strikes against Iran. “Azerbaijan, from the start, has declared that it will not interfere in the internal matters of other countries and will not allow its territory to be used against other countries,” he said.
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanaani, spoke out against Israel’s plans to sow discord between Azerbaijan and Iran and to destabilise the region. “The Israeli regime is an implacable enemy to relations between Iran and Azerbaijan and is seeking to foment discord in order to reap its own benefits,” he told reporters.
“Since the Zionist regime’s so-called national security and survival strategies are anchored in creating and stoking instability and insecurity across the [West Asia] region and in the Muslim world, its mischief will not be exclusively directed at Tehran-Baku ties,” the spokesperson stated.