Israel’s Role in Azerbaijan’s Bid to Reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh Shocks Diplomats

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In one of the more delicate geopolitical dances of recent history, Israel has emerged as a stealthy catalyst in Azerbaijan’s ongoing bid to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh. The enigmatic Middle Eastern nation supplied Azerbaijan with substantial artillery in the months preceding its swift offensive, effectively tilting the struggle for this contested region back into the hands of its former controllers, according to insiders and analysists familiar with the matter.

As the month of September approached, military cargo planes routinely jetted between the Israeli south and an airstrip neighbouring Nagorno-Karabakh, a move that caught the attention of Armenian diplomats and heightened their alarm. Western governments urged for negotiations, but hostilities were visibly on the rise.

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This discreet but strategic alliance between Israel and Azerbaijan concerned officials in Yerevan deeply. They were apprehensive about what repercussions the Israeli weapons, now in Azerbaijan’s possession, would have on the fragile peace in the region lying to the south of the Caucasus Mountains.

Upset at this turn of events, the Armenian ambassador to Israel, Arman Akopian, aired his concerns about the Israeli weapon deliveries to Azerbaijan in spirited exchanges with Israeli lawmakers and politicians. He could not fathom why Israel seemed indifferent to the fate of a people being exiled from their lands by the threat of violence.

With its forces bolstered by Israeli and Turkish weaponry, Azerbaijan launched a powerful barrage in September, crippling the Armenian separatist forces and compelling them to engage in dialogue regarding the separatist region’s future. The dire consequences of this bold move included the destruction of a sizeable portion of both Armenian and Azerbaijani forces and the displacement of a vast majority of the region’s Armenian population.

Azerbaijan, however, has pledged to uphold the rights of the displaced ethnic Armenians, categorically denying allegations of ethnic cleansing leveled against them by Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Despite uncertainty brewing around Israel’s military partnership with Azerbaijan, Israeli establishments have chosen to remain reticent. They, however, have not failed to recognize the strategic value of Azerbaijan to Israel. The former is a reliable source of oil, an ally against Iran, which Israel perceives as an archenemy, and a willing customer of Israel’s sophisticated armaments.

Despite recent gas discoveries along its Mediterranean coast, Israel still depends on Azerbaijan for around 40% of its oil needs, a dependency dating back to the late 1990s. Iran, once a significant facilitator of oil from Kazakhstan to the world, fell off the map when Israel established an oil pipeline through Baku’s offshore deposits to push Iran into isolation.

Azerbaijan itself harbors suspicion and resentment towards Iran, citing its consistent support for Christian Armenia. Speculations of Azerbaijan providing a base for Israeli intelligence operations against Iran have only added fuel to the already strained Muslim relations in the region.

The symbiotic relationship between the Middle Eastern nations has contributed considerably to the growth of the Israeli military complex. Between 2016 and 2020, as much as 70% of Azerbaijan’s military equipment reportedly came from this alliance.

Exploding drones provided by Israel have compensated for the lack of significant air forces within Azerbaijan, reaching targets even deep within Armenia. On the flip side, surface-to-air missiles have been instrumental in the defence of Azerbaijan’s airspace. The successful deployment of these resources has been publicly acknowledged by the Azerbaijani establishment.

As diplomats worldwide strove to quell the escalating tensions in early September, Azerbaijani cargo planes crowded the airfields of a military base in southern Israel known for its prowess in explosives exports. These flights coincided with Azerbaijan’s offensive a mere two days later.

The nature of these developments and their implications have been a source of controversy in Israel. Critics argue that the nation, which out of the top ten global arms manufacturers peers only with Russia in unrestrained weapon exports, ought to more carefully consider the human rights implications of their choices.

The necessity of exercising caution when aiding forces against ethnic and religious minorities is now openly debated in Israel, with many stressing on the imperative to not become accomplices in the violation of human rights.