On an official visit to Azerbaijan, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met in Baku with President Ilham Aliyev on Wednesday, ahead of his trip to Turkmenistan where Israel is expected to open an embassy.
A statement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry after Cohen’s meeting with Aliyev said that the two countries are strengthening their diplomatic and security alliance. The two also discussed deepening economic and tourism ties, with Azerbaijan being seen by Israel as a critical access point to Eurasia.
Cohen congratulated Aliyev on his decision to open an embassy in Israel last month after 30 years without diplomatic relations. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov inaugurated his country’s embassy in Tel Aviv on March 29, prompting Tehran to complain of the “anti-Iranian orientation” of Azeri diplomacy.
Cohen arrived to Baku on Tuesday at the head of a large economic delegation of some 30 companies in the fields of homeland security, cyber security, water management and smart agriculture. More than 100 meetings were set up for the different Israeli representatives with local companies and Azeri officials.
Israel has been investing great efforts in recent years into nurturing its ties with the Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, mainly because of its long border with Iran, extending at 765 km (428 m). Reports over the years have indicated that Israel has been supplying weapons to Azerbaijan, including drones apparently used in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Karabakh region, though Israel has officially never acknowledged doing so.
A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on weapons used at the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict said Israel was the second-largest supplier after Russia, delivering weapons to Azerbaijan in the years 2011-2020.
Cohen is expected to travel to Turkmenistan on Wednesday night. He will meet with Turkmenistan’s President Serdar Berdymukhamedov and the country’s foreign and agriculture ministers and will inaugurate Israel’s embassy Thursday morning. It will be Israel’s closest embassy geographically to a border with Iran at just 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.
Israel and Turkmenistan have maintained diplomatic ties since the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords. In 1994, then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres visited Turkmenistan, cementing the newly established relations. Since then, no Israeli minister has visited the country. Pressured by Iran, Turkmenistan refused to accept Israeli ambassadors for several years. Unlike with Azerbaijan, bilateral ties between the countries are limited, focusing mainly on agriculture cooperation. Israel participated along with other Western countries in efforts to reconstruct the country’s largest oil refinery.
Cohen's visits to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan come on the backdrop of growing tensions with Iran.