On the other hand, our countries are expanding the horizons of that cooperation: Israel’s involvement in the restoration of the liberated Azerbaijani territories testifies to the fact that Azerbaijani-Israeli relations are “doomed” to long-term partnership and no third country can hinder its development.
How will these relations develop in the nearest future? How can Israel contribute to the restoration of Karabakh? Alex Vexler, former consul of Israel in Moscow, ex-adviser to the Minister of Internal Security of the Jewish state, currently a military political analyst, answers these and other questions.
We have been observing new trends emerging in the relations between Israel and Azerbaijan after the Patriotic War, such as the recent opening of trade and tourism offices of Azerbaijan in Tel Aviv. What do you think about this important event in the relations between our countries? Do you believe we should expect a full-fledged Azerbaijani embassy to be opened in Israel in the short term?
We have been waiting for this to happen for a long time. A full-fledged Israeli embassy has been functioning in the capital of Azerbaijan, in my beloved Baku, for 30 years now. So, I hope that we will reach a point in the near future when the embassy of Azerbaijan will be opened in Israel as well. The first steps have been taken in this direction. Trade and tourism offices of Azerbaijan have already been opened. It was a great joy, a great pleasure for us that it happened. Especially for the several tens of thousands of immigrants from Azerbaijan. But I find it difficult to assess, because these are not only Jews. There are ethnic Azerbaijanis with Jewish wives among them. There were many Azerbaijanis who had Jewish family members. If you count everyone, most of them will be Jews, and the second largest group will be Azerbaijanis. There are many of them. We are all waiting for Baku to open its embassy in Israel.
As for tourism, it is always great. I can tell you how delighted Israelis are when they come back from Baku. I myself visited with a tourist group in 2019. A wonderful city, so big and clean. My wife has been to many countries, and she says that she can walk the streets of Baku freely, even though it is a Muslim country. It is obvious to me personally, after all, my family lived in Azerbaijan more than a hundred years. We walked around the city without fear, without feeling what we feel in Paris, Barcelona and other cities. Tourism will develop.
Baku has become a fashionable destination for Israeli tourism. Our TV programs air a lot of material about Baku. Sadly, we have been haunted by the coronavirus for a year and a half now. But sooner or later, this will be over, and the borders will be opened for tourists on either side.
The trade is ongoing and ever-growing. If “thank you for the oil” and “thank you for something else” used to be the main elements of Azerbaijani-Israeli trade relations, other kinds of industrial trade can develop now.
I know that Israelis have opened dozens of related companies in Azerbaijan, where representative of both nations work. Undoubtedly, the roads are open for full development. All this is based on a strong friendship between the Jewish and Azerbaijani peoples, tested proven over the years, decades, and centuries, as well as our deepest respect for the Muslim country of Azerbaijan, in which Jews lived and prospered—as my family did for a long time.
I left Baku 48 years ago. But I was not running away. There has never been antisemitism in Azerbaijan. My family had lived in Azerbaijan since the middle of the 19th century. But I moved to Israel, I wanted to live in my historical homeland. This is understandable. There is no comparison between Baku and Vilnius, where my wife is from, where rabid antisemitism reigned, very similar to what is happening in Moscow today. I gave an interview to the Russian Delovaya Gazeta. They published everything exactly as I said, namely, that the antisemitic campaign must be stopped. I also said that they should be proud that the Israeli champion, a Jewish woman had achieved such high results because all her coaches, all her friends in sports are of Soviet, Russian origin. She even learned Russian. They should be proud of this school, instead of launching an antisemitic campaign.
Israel has an extensive experience in international cooperation in various fields. How could Israel contribute to the restoration of the liberated Azerbaijani territories? What experience could be beneficial in this matter?
We have a vast experience in the development of agriculture, and it is being put to use in many countries around the world. We are willing to share this experience with Azerbaijan on the best conditions, providing the best specialists and cutting-edge technologies.
After the Patriotic War, Israeli doctors helped Azerbaijani soldiers. Israel is ready to help in any other area and support Azerbaijan in all issues.
After the war, Azerbaijan faced a new challenge. Unfortunately, Iranian drug couriers’ attempts to illegally transport drugs to the territory of Azerbaijan have become more frequent. Our law enforcement agencies have so far managed to stop them from getting to the neighboring countries and EU states. Several armed incidents have already taken place on the Iranian-Azerbaijani border. There were dead and wounded on our side. Do you think the Israeli experience could be useful in terms of strengthening the security of our border with Iran? What is your assessment of the idea of developing Azerbaijani-Israeli relations in the field of border security?
We certainly do have experience that you can use in this area. We have a border with the Gaza Strip, which is closed along several tens of kilometers so that no one can cross it on foot or by vehicle. Your border with Iran is much more serious. We are talking about hundreds of kilometers here. Still, you could use our experience: it is not about building a continuous border, but about installing separate electronic sensors, which will alert to the approach of vehicles and living organisms. We also have experience in combating drug traffic coming, for example, from Lebanon or Egypt, where our border is 200-300 km long.
Israeli media report that Iran attacked an Israeli tanker in the Indian Ocean. A few days ago, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Iran was 10 weeks away from acquiring weapons-grade materials necessary for a nuclear weapon. What scenarios can events around Iranian-Israeli relations follow in the near future? What are the possible ramifications of an Iranian-Israeli war for the South Caucasus region?
We have no border with Iran. There are Jordan and Iraq between us. The Iranians are provoking us. They are trying to strengthen their positions in Syria. By the way, in a manner of speaking, there are ties between the Russian Federation and Iran, because they are both present in the territory of Syria. Until recently, we tried not only to destroy Iranian bases in Syria, but also to prevent air deliveries of weapons and ammunition from Iran. Some of the weapons stayed in Syria, some were to go to Lebanon.
As for the tanker, Iran used attack drones for the first time in history. First, drones monitored the vessel’s movement and transmitted the signals, and then the tanker was attacked by two “suicide drones”. On the same night, it was done against Saudi Arabia. We do not want to fight with Iran. We have a large community of Iranian immigrants in our country.
And more than that: as far as I know, we have programs in Farsi being broadcast in Iran. We have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of audience in Iran. Young people in Iranian nightclubs dance to our music, and several of our popular singers even sing in Farsi. But Iran is rapidly moving towards the development of nuclear weapons. Can they build nuclear weapons? Yes, they can. But will they be allowed to do it? One of those who will not allow this to happen will be our state of Israel. We have nothing against Iran, but every day its officials publicly declare that Israel must be destroyed—that I, my children, my grandchildren, all of us, must be destroyed. No one else except Iran says that. The entire world should be interested in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Translated from Caliber.az