Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon landed in the Caucasus nation of Azerbaijan on Wednesday, becoming the first Israeli defense minister ever to visit the country, which is located strategically on Iran's northern border along the Caspian Sea.
Arriving in the capital city of Baku, Ya'alon is to hold a two-day historic diplomatic visit with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, and other Azeri officials.
"I'm happy to be hosted here in the first historical visit of an Israeli defense minister in Azerbaijan," said Ya'alon upon landing in Baku.
The security alliance with Azerbaijan was demonstrated in 2012, when the country leased four airbases to Israel that many speculated would enable an IAF airstrike on Iran's nuclear reactors - speculation Aliyev rejected at the time.
Last May, Azerbaijan Ambassador to the United States Elin Suleymanov told Arutz Sheva correspondent Mark Langfan that his 9.5 million-strong country of mostly Shi'ite Muslims is "proud of its Muslim heritage, but is a staunchly secular country."
Suleymanov added that his country has had a continuous Jewish presence for almost 2,600 years, and was a relative safe haven for Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Russia in World War II.
The Azeri ambassador added that Israel receives 40% of its oil supply from Azerbaijan, making the country a critical ally. He added that the two states share a "deep defense cooperation," illustrated in Ya'alon's historic visit.
Azerbaijan has become an increasingly welcome friendly state especially in context of its southern neighbor Iran, which continues to threaten Israel and develop its nuclear program.
An Iranian was arrested in Azerbaijan last November after he was found casing the Israeli embassy. Reportedly the man was part of the "Quds" elite international ops unit of the Revolutionary Guards, and was planning an attack on the Israeli target.
Another Iranian was sentenced to 15 years in jail last October for plotting an attack on the Israeli embassy last March. Azeri officials likewise in February 2012 arrested a terrorist cell of Iran-proxy Hezbollah members holding Iranian passports and planning an attack.
Further showing the defense cooperation with Israel, Azeri officials in January 2012 uncovered an Iranian-linked Muslim gang that plotted to assassinate Chabad rabbis who teach at the Chabad Jewish school in Baku.