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Israeli Defense Minister Visits Azerbaijan, Focuses on Expanding Mutual Relationship

By Ilham Karimli July 15, 2023

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President Ilham Aliyev received Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Baku, Azerbaijan, July 13, 2023

The expansion of the mutual relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel was at the center of a series of meetings involving the Israeli Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, in Azerbaijan this week.

Gallant arrived in Azerbaijan on Wednesday for a two-day official visit. On Thursday, President Ilham Aliyev received the Israeli minister to discuss the development of bilateral relations, including military-technical cooperation.

Later, Gallant met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Zakir Hasanov, to discuss opportunities for strengthening strategic relations and expanding security ties. The Israeli defense chief then visited the Headquarters of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan in Baku, where he emphasized the importance of expanding cooperation in areas of mutual interest during talks with the State Border Service Chief, Elchin Guliyev.

“Together, we will continue to strengthen cooperation and the warm relationship, for the sake of the countries’ security and regional stability,” Gallant wrote after the meetings in Baku.

In May, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog visited Azerbaijan to address key aspects of expanding cooperation with the South Caucasus country. President Herzog praised Azerbaijan’s impact in the energy sector in Europe, the region as a whole, Asia, and the Middle East.

On March 29, Azerbaijan opened its embassy in Israel as a sign of its intention to further enhance the bilateral relationship with Tel Aviv. 

“The opening of the Azeri [Azerbaijani] embassy in Israel is further evidence of the strengthening of relations between our countries. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, and its strategic location makes the relationship between us of great importance and great potential,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said during the opening ceremony in Tel Aviv.

Israel was among the first countries in the world to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence in December 1991, shortly after Azerbaijan regained its independence from the dissolved Soviet Union in October 1991. The Israeli embassy began operating in Azerbaijan in 1993.

Azerbaijan has been a major importer of defense products from Israel for many years. According to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) for the periods 2014-2018 and 2018-2022, Azerbaijan was the second-largest importer of Israeli-made arms. From 2016 to 2020, purchases from Israel, one of the world’s top eight arms exporters, accounted for 69 percent of Azerbaijan’s arms imports.

In 2016, President Aliyev revealed that contracts between Azerbaijan and Israeli companies for the purchase of defense equipment amounted to nearly $5 billion.

Major arms supplied by Israel include loitering munitions, reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), guided missiles, and ballistic missiles produced by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Elbit, Rafael, and other Israeli defense companies.

Azerbaijani authorities confirmed the use of Israeli-made “suicide” drones, known as Harop loitering munitions, during the 2020 war with Armenia. These drones played a significant role in providing the Azerbaijani army with a clear advantage over Armenia’s troops. Azerbaijani forces also deployed the Israeli-made LORA operational-tactical missile system during the war.

In the final days of the hostilities in November 2020, the Middle East Eye claimed that Armenia launched Russian-made Iskander ballistic missiles at Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku. However, the Azerbaijani forces intercepted the missile with a Barak-8 air defense system purchased from IAI.

In 2021, Israeli defense company Meteor Aerospace and Azerbaijan’s Caspian Ship Building Company established a joint venture called Caspian Meteor. The joint venture aims to provide high-tech defense solutions to meet the needs of the Azerbaijani military.

On the economic front, Israel imports 40 percent of its oil from Azerbaijan. According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Azerbaijani oil exports to Israel amounted to $1.67 billion in 2022. From January through May 2023, Israel imported over one million tons of crude oil and petroleum products from Azerbaijan.