Israeli President Isaac Herzog met Tuesday with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, further strengthening Israel’s partnership with the secular Shi’ite Muslim country that borders Iran.
The visit comes amid growing strategic and defense ties between the two nations, epitomized by the inauguration of the Azerbaijan embassy in Israel this spring as well as concomitant violence directed at both countries by Iran.
“It is no secret that your country is a Muslim country with a predominantly Shi’ite majority and yet the level of love and affection that exists between our two nations is simply an example of how we can change the world and move forward,” the Israeli leader told Aliyev.
Herzog called his visit “a dream come true” for himself and the people of Israel.
“Your visit demonstrates the close partnership [in the] relations of our countries and I am sure your visit will strengthen our bilateral ties,” Aliyev said in remarks in English. “The opening of our embassy this year will elevate relations and create more opportunities for closer interactions.”
He cited the centuries of good relations between Azerbaijan and the Jewish people that predate both the modern State of Israel and the former Soviet Republic.
“As an independent country, we are 31 years old, but we have centuries of history of interaction, friendship and mutual support,” Aliyev said.
“We have such a broad agenda, I could speak for hours,” the Azerbaijani president concluded his welcoming remarks. Minutes later, Herzog invited him to visit Israel.
The security ties between the nations and Azerbaijan’s location next door to the Islamic Republic were front and center in the talks between the two leaders.
“We need to remember that beyond trade and historic ties, including with the Jewish community, that Azerbaijan is Iran’s neighbor,” Herzog said before departing Israel for the 24-hour visit. “Iran is a destabilizing influence in the region that is working continuously to act against Israel and against the developing alliance of peace and security in the region, and I will certainly discuss this.”
Herzog and his wife, Michal, were greeted upon arrival at the airport in Baku by Azerbaijan’s deputy prime minister, deputy foreign minister, and the ambassadors of both countries.
They were joined by 30 Jewish children from the Or Avner Chabad school in Baku.
Herzog laid a wreath at the graveside of Azerbaijan’s late president Heydar Aliyev, who presided over the inauguration of ties three decades ago, as well as at the national memorial for the fallen in Azerbaijan’s wars.
Herzog is also scheduled to participate in a ceremony with the Jewish community celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence before returning home on Wednesday.
He is the second Israeli president to visit Azerbaijan after Shimon Peres’s trip nearly a decade and a half ago. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Baku last month.
Israel has had an embassy in Baku since 1993, a year after relations were established between the two nations. Indeed, Israel was one of the first countries in the world to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
For Israel, ties with oil-rich Azerbaijan are of great importance, both as a conduit for reconnaissance and because it supplies an estimated 40% of the Jewish state’s oil needs and is a leading purchaser of Israeli military hardware.