Azerbaijan to open an embassy in Israel: Why now?
Although Azerbaijan has had military and political cooperation with Israel for many years, it has been careful not to distance itself from the Islamic world and not to openly irritate several anti-Israel Muslim countries, including Iran by avoiding opening a full diplomatic mission in the Jewish state. Last year, the establishment of an Azerbaijani trade and tourism mission in Israel not only further expanded the partnership between the two countries but also signaled Baku’s intention to finally set up its presence in Israel. Earlier this year, Israeli President Isaac Herzog wrote a letter in honor of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of relations between Israel and Azerbaijan and invited President Ilham Aliyev to visit Israel and open an embassy. The letter stated that the opening of the embassy will be the beginning of a new phase in bilateral relations.
The process of normalization between Israel and the Arab world, which began in 2020 with the Abraham Accords, has also provided Azerbaijan with certain avenues to take bolder steps on the Embassy issue. More to the point, the Turkey-Israel rapprochement further expanded Azerbaijan’s room for maneuvering in this regard. In 2022, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Turkey, and both countries mutually appointed ambassadors to reestablish diplomatic relations. Also, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Israel for the first time since 2005.
Undoubtedly, the improvement of Turkish-Israeli relations is considered the best possible outcome for Azerbaijan, which is a reliable partner and ally for both countries. Arab countries and Turkey's normalization of relations with Israel has once again brought up the "embassy" issue, which Azerbaijan is cautious about.
At a time when many Muslim countries have normalized relations with Israel, Azerbaijan's southern neighbor Iran has started taking steps to damage regional peace. Initially, during the Azerbaijan-Armenia border conflict in September of this year, the statements of the military and political leaders of Iran that "Armenia's borders are Iran's red line" were not received unambiguously in Azerbaijan. Further, the opening of Iran's consulate in the Armenian city of Kapan (the president of Azerbaijan noted during his speech that these areas are the historical lands of Azerbaijan), a city across the border with Azerbaijan, further increased the tension in relations.
Last year, after the large-scale military exercises of the Iranian Army in the border areas with Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev openly expressed his concerns about these exercises. The reply of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was such: "We will not accept the presence of Zionists on Iran's borders". According to the claim of the Iranian side, Israeli soldiers, weapons and intelligence have been deployed in the territory of the Zangilan district, which was recently liberated from occupation. In the last exercises, both the state and opposition media of Iran openly threatened Azerbaijan and Israel. The relations between the two countries reached the breaking stage after Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi invited the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to Tehran. Later, the State Security Service of Azerbaijan announced that it has exposed an illegal armed group created by and participated in the military training of Iranian intelligence to commit provocations in Azerbaijan. According to the official announcement, the Iranian embassy in Baku also participated in the transportation of the illegal group. A day later, SOF units of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces started military exercises on the border with Iran.
It is clearly observed that relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are already at the stage of rupture, while the Arab world and Turkey have already begun to restore diplomatic relations with Israel within the framework of the normalization process. Thus, Azerbaijan no longer has any worries about opening an embassy in Israel, and there is no reason for it to be cautious anymore. The opening of the embassy in Israel can be a solid response of Azerbaijan to Iran, in addition to its role in the development of Azerbaijan-Israel relations as a milestone for a new stage.