While tensions between Turkey and Israel are increasing, political analysts speculate about Baku’s ability to maintain friendly relations with both countries at the same time. Tensions between Turkey and Israel have been on the rise since May 2010, when Israeli troops boarded a ship headed to Gaza. As Turkey’s leaders intensify efforts to isolate Israel internationally, Turkish Ambassador Hulusi Kilic has called on “brother Azerbaijan” to “reconsider its relations” with Israel.
“We are always, over the history, at the side of Azerbaijan. It is already 18 years since our borders [with Armenia] were closed for the sake of Azerbaijan, so in this case, the problem of a brother state should become the problem of Azerbaijan as well,” Kilic stated in an interview to local ANS TV on September 19. “Relations with Israel went from bad to worse and their further development in the same spirit concerns every citizen of Turkey.”
The Ambassador said that Israel should take into account “possible problems” with the oil pipeline that transports oil from Azerbaijan to the Turkish hub Ceyhan, and further oil supplies to Israel. He did not go into further details, but asserted that “the government of Azerbaijan well knows what should be done and we fully rely on Azerbaijan.”
Responding to the Turkish ambassador's comments, Israel's Ambassador to Baku Michael Lavon Lotem was quoted as saying that Azerbaijan and Israel are “close partners,” whose relations are built on a stable foundation and cannot be a subject of third-party interests. “Israel and Azerbaijan have common interests in the political, strategic, economical and cultural areas. Close and direct contacts between the leaders of our countries allow overcoming accidental disagreements,” Lotem stated, adding that his country is willing to restore the historical ties between the Turkish and Jewish nations “between leading democracies in the Middle East.”
Especially in current political situation in the Middle East, it is essential for Israel to have reliable sources of petrochemicals. Israel needs access to a source of oil and gas that would not be affected by the attitude of the Persian Gulf states toward Israel. Most of the oil refined at Oil Refineries Ltd. in Haifa and the Paz Oil Company Ltd. Ashdod Refinery comes from former Soviet countries, principally Azerbaijan. The oil is transported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which runs from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Other Israeli oil imports are provided by tankers from the Black Sea transiting the Turkish Straits to the Mediterranean. The completion of the BTC project was a turning point in the energy cooperation between Baku, Ankara, and Jerusalem. During the project’s launch, the Armenian lobby in the U.S. opposed the BTC project. By allying itself with Israel, Azerbaijan gained significant support among the U.S. Jewish community in lobbying for the BTC.
Could Turkey seek to block Israel's oil supply? Major General (res.) Oren Shachor, a former chairman of Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company Ltd., which owns the oil terminal for deliveries, says that there is little chance of that. “BTC is owned by an international consortium,” he says. “The Turks cannot stop the flow of oil through the pipeline or prevent oil tankers arriving at Ceyhan to take on shipments without being sued and suffering a serious blow to their credibility in the eyes of the business community.”
Azerbaijan has become an important strategic asset for Israel's security and foreign affairs. In 2010, trade between the two countries totaled more than US$ 2 billion – double the trade between Azerbaijan and Turkey. Despite Iran’s constant and aggressive protests, Israel supplies Azerbaijan with advanced military equipment and helps train its army. As part of the cooperation between the two states, Israeli defense systems manufacturer Elbit Systems recently opened a joint production of unmanned aerial vehicles.
At the same time, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev publicly condemned the deadly attack on the Turkish ship in 2010. Speaking on the Palestinian problem, Baku supports the establishment of an independent and sovereign State of Palestine with a capital in Eastern Jerusalem and draws a parallel between the occupation of Palestine by Israel and the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenian troops. “Azerbaijan is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Generally, Azerbaijan is a state representing the Islamic world. We should surely support Palestine at the UN General Assembly,” said Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov.
Some political analysts believe that Baku will simply try to keep a balance between Turkey and Israel, while others consider this an opportunity for Azerbaijan to be a mediator between the two countries. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov held a bilateral meeting with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu from Turkey within the framework of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly and discussed regional and international issues and cooperation on economic and energy issues, the ministry reported. In parallel, Mammadyarov met with members of the American Jewish Committee, during which the sides exchanged views over the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, energy security and other issues of mutual interest. “Turkey is a brother state for Azerbaijan and we have excellent relations,” according to the First Deputy Chairman of the Azerbaijani Parliament. “Let’s see how events will develop … but we understand the position of Turkey and we are always with them … Despite this, I believe that Azerbaijan also should express a better understanding towards other countries ... Because Azerbaijan is a young independent country.”