Over 90 flights from the Azeri Silk Way Airlines cargo company have landed at the Israeli southern airport of Ovda in the past seven years, reports revealed on Monday.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Silk Way Airlines is one of the few foreign companies to land in Ovda and with authorization to carry explosives in Israel’s airspace.
The report notes that Ovda is the only Israeli air base authorized to receive and launch outgoing and incoming flights carrying explosives. Contrary to Ovda, located in the Negev Desert, Israel’s main gateway, Ben Gurion Airport, is located in a densely populated area in the center of the country, which is why cargo planes carrying explosives are not allowed to land there. Also, Ovda serves simultaneously as an air base for both civilian and military flights.
The Haaretz report notes, however, that three weekly Silk Way Airlines flights are operating between the airport in Baku and Ben Gurion.
The report comes as tensions heighten again between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. The area lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of Armenia since1994. In 2020, the two sides fought for six weeks, allowing Azerbaijan to reclaim part of the disputed territory.
It is no secret that ties between Baku and Israel have deepened over the past three decades, though much of the scope of these relations has been kept discreet. Azerbaijan shares a border with Iran and is a major Shiite state, though the variant of Shiite Islam practiced there is significantly more moderate than the radical Shi'ism of Iran. As such, Jerusalem considers Baku an important security and strategic partner.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed in 2021 that Israel has been selling Azerbaijan weapons, and in return Baku has been selling Israel fuel while either sharing or enabling the intelligence it collects on neighboring Iran. Foreign reports, such as the Times of London, have also claimed that Azerbaijan authorized the Mossad to set up shop in the country, though Israeli authorities never confirmed such reports. Israel didn't confirm either Azeri statements on selling Baku advanced weapon systems, including ballistic missiles and attack drones, with the latter allegedly used against Armenia in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Israel has an embassy in Baku, but Azerbaijan has no embassy in Israel. Last November, Baku announced it would open an embassy in Israel in what was considered a major diplomatic achievement for then-Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Cooperation between the two countries continues under the Netanyahu government. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke on the phone with his Azeri counterpart, Zakir Hasanov, at the beginning of February. In the conversation, Hasanov expressed his belief that the military cooperation between the two countries would continue to expand. On Feb. 23, Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter met in Jerusalem with a large Azeri delegation that came to Israel in order to expand agriculture cooperation between the countries.
Earlier this week, Israel announced that Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov is expected to visit Israel on March 29 in order to open his country’s first embassy. Azerbaijan will be the first Shiite-majority country to open an embassy in Israel.