The close ties with Israel are first of all connected with the presence of Jewish communities that settled in Azerbaijan down the ages. The fact that the “Mountain Jews” have lived in Azerbaijan for almost 1,500 years, and the Ashkenazi and Georgian Jews settled in Baku and Oghuz in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and that they have been able to live here and preserve their cultural identity can be seen as the foundation for relations between the countries.
The “Qırmızı qəsəbə” or Red Settlement is a historic Jewish town in Azerbaijan and is a major location where Jews live according to their religious and cultural traditions. The Red Settlement with its population of over 20,000 is the only town in the world outside Israel and the USA with a mostly Jewish population. The Museum of the Mountain Jews which opened here in 2020 and the synagogues built or restored in different periods have preserved the people’s traditions and heritage and aim to pass them on safely to future generations.
The two peoples’ shared historical memory in the south Caucasus and the environment of tolerance and coexistence that has evolved between them developed even further in terms of quality and quantity when Azerbaijan gained its independence for the second time in the 1990s. Not by chance was Israel one of the first states to officially recognize the independence of Azerbaijan and establish diplomatic relations. Diplomatic and economic ties between independent Azerbaijan and Israel have continued to expand since the 1990s.
Over the past 30 years the level of economic cooperation between the two countries has risen significantly. Over the past 26 years exports from Azerbaijan to Israel have risen 61.3%: in 1995 exports were worth 3,600 dollars and in 2021 – 898 million dollars. This figure rose even higher in 2022 to 1.68 billion dollars. Oil and oil products account for much of this total, and today Azerbaijan is one of Israel’s main energy suppliers, providing 40% of the country’s oil. Moreover, export potential in other sectors is growing noticeably year on year.
Alongside the economy, mutual cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel has been developing in other strategic areas such as the military, technology and the fight against terrorism. Strengthening their own defense potential has a leading place in cooperation between the two countries too. As well as the strategic sectors, tourism, agriculture, health and energy resources have been some of the main areas in the development of relations between Azerbaijan and Israel in recent years. The creation of Azerbaijan’s tourism and trade missions in Israel in 2021 can be considered major steps in expanding bilateral ties.
From this point of view, the opening of Azerbaijan’s embassy in Israel on 29 March 2023 should be seen as the logical result of 30 years of cooperation and strategic partnership. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s recent visit to Azerbaijan with a large economic delegation and the agreements reached during the trip are clear evidence of the dynamic in bilateral relations. The expansion of mutual cooperation in sectors such as energy, the economy, tourism, environmental protection, education and investment is the outcome of centuries of healthy, historical ties between Azerbaijan and Israel.
Bilateral relations built on cultural identities and historic ties have made major strides in the past 30 years in sectors ranging from the economy to security. The atmosphere of mutual trust and support arising from this development has laid the ground for Azerbaijani-Israeli relations to enter a new stage. Today there is no doubt that relations in all areas will expand even further in the near future.
Ilham Nagiyev, Azerbaijani economist, author, IT entrepreneur