Netanyahu meeting Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev in Baku
Netanyahu meeting Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev in BakuHaim Zach/GPO
Since 1992, when Israel became the first predominantly non-Muslim nation to recognize Azerbaijan's independence, the relationship between the two countries has grown increasingly close and robust.

The advantages of this alliance for both Israel and Azerbaijan are numerous: Israeli weapon exports to Azerbaijan have generated billions of dollars for Israeli companies, while Azerbaijan has emerged as a major oil and gas supplier for Israel. Furthermore, business ventures and investments in various sectors, including agriculture, IT services, and manufacturing, have yielded mutual benefits.

From a security and geostrategic perspective, the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance holds significant importance. Israeli intelligence has helped Azerbaijan combat Islamist organizations that threaten President Ilham Aliyev's rule, and in return, Azerbaijan has provided a logistical platform and crucial support for Israel in its efforts to counter Iran's nuclear weapons program. Additionally, the alliance further weakens the credibility of Iranian propaganda that portrays Israel as hostile to Islam and the Muslim world.

While the advantages of this bilateral relationship are regularly emphasized and praised by Israel's political, diplomatic, and intelligence community, it is essential for them to acknowledge the potential rdrawbacks. These stem from Azerbaijan's long-standing dispute with Armenia over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Both nations hold deep historical and emotional ties to this mountainous territory, which has fueled passionate sentiments on both sides.

During the early 1990s, Armenia gained a military advantage in the conflict, controlling the entire disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. However, in 2020, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military offensive, reclaiming a significant portion of Nagorno-Karabakh, facilitated by Israeli and Turkish weaponry. While the conflict was halted by halfhearted Russian intervention, the outcome has enraged Armenians and the global Armenian diaspora. The threats by President Aliyev to reclaim and ethnically cleanse the entire disputed territory, as well as annex Armenian territories bordering Iran, have escalated tensions.

These developments pose risks to Israel's reputation and regional interests. Efforts by Armenian (and Palestinian Arab) activists to publicize Israel's role in the destruction of ancient Christian communities and landmarks could tarnish Israel’s reputation among its most passionate support base. Evangelical Christians are a crucial ally for the Jewish state, and exposing them to images of bombed-out Christian schools, monasteries and churches in the Caucasus could damage Israel’s good name. Especially so, if these emotional scenes are preceded by awareness that - in many cases - the destruction was wrought by Israeli missiles and drones.

Furthermore, Israel's uncritical support for Azerbaijan inadvertently contributes to strengthening Iran's role as a diplomatic player and stabilizing actor in the Caucasus. Russia's focus on Ukraine leaves a void that Iran fills as Armenia's protector and guarantor of Christian interests in the region.

This Iranian role is particularly important for France, where Armenia and the Armenian community, 600,000 members strong, hold significant prestige and influence in cultural, political, and diplomatic spheres. President Macron, who is already facing criticism from the right for allegedly not doing enough to protect France's Christian identity, cannot afford another conflict where Azerbaijani and Turkish troops attack and overpower France’s longtime Christian protégé in the Caucasus.

Thirdly, alleged human rights abuses in Azerbaijan raise concerns about Israel’s role in supporting a regime exhibiting poor rankings in international human freedom and democracy indices. Israel's provision of weapons and technology used to suppress dissent and persecute political adversaries could feed discontent among ordinary Azerbaijanis, reminiscent of the long-lasting resentment fostered by Israel's past association with repressive regimes in Iran and South Africa.

In light of the above, Israel would do well to adopt a more balanced diplomatic approach towards Azerbaijan. Israel should continue to support Azerbaijan's territorial aspirations, while publicly and privately expressing firm opposition to a military resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Furthermore, Israel could play a significant diplomatic role by inviting Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to an international peace conference in Jerusalem, bringing together diplomatic representatives from the United States, France, Turkey, and Russia. Such an initiative would showcase Israel's commitment to brokering a just agreement, promoting regional peace and stability, while sidelining Iran.

Jerusalem, with its historical and symbolic significance to all three Abrahamic faiths, presents an ideal venue for an international peace conference, providing an opportunity for Israel to enhance its international prestige and influence in the region.

It is crucial for Israeli policy makers to rethink and refine Israel’s current approach to the Caucasus, ensuring it genuinely advances the middle- and long-term interests of the Jewish State.

Rafael Castro is a political analyst specializing in Middle Eastern politics. A graduate of Yale and Hebrew University, Rafael is a Noahide by choice who can be reached at [email protected]