Supporting the Azeri formula in Nagorno-Karabach conflict – opinion

Israel can’t be a neutral observer on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabach between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Israel is a strategic ally of Azerbaijan.

This strategic alliance is rooted in history. More than 600,000 Azerbaijanis fought against Nazi Germany in World War II. More than half of them never returned home from the battlefield. Azerbaijan, with its oil industry, played a crucial role in the effort of the Soviet Union to defeat the Nazis.

Unlike in most of the Soviet republics, there was no antisemitism in Azerbaijan. On the contrary, the Jewish community enjoyed religious freedom and tolerance there; Jews were equal to other citizens of this republic.

After I identified in 1992 the Iranian threat on Israel, I tried, as a member of Knesset and confidant of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, to find new allies for Israel in the region beyond our immediate Arab neighbors. The first visit in my search was Baku. Asmara, Ashkhabad, Dubai followed later.
In December 1993 I had the historic privilege to establish with Heydar Aliyev, the founding father of modern Azerbaijan, the unwritten strategic alliance between our two countries.

The practical sides of this alliance are Israel’s import of half of its demand of crude oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and the export of $5 billion in sophisticated Israeli military equipment, according to President Ilham Aliyev’s public statement.

But the alliance is not about oil and arms. Azerbaijan, with its vast majority Shi’ite Muslim population, aspires to be a secular, modern, enlightened independent state. Neither of its neighbors agree that Azerbaijan should have all these attributes together. Israel is the country that fully supports all the aspirations of the Azerbaijan people and government. After the COVID pandemic, more tourism, more cultural and academic exchanges, will follow.

Turkey doesn’t share the vision of secular, enlightened Azerbaijan. It tries to turn the conflict in Nagorno-Karabach into another Muslim-Christian war. But Azerbaijan is not the Islamist government of Tripoli. Azerbaijan is strong enough and can successfully prevail without Turkish intervention, let alone without the jihadist mercenaries Turkey intends to deploy.

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabach is about the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. In the early nineties of the previous century, when the Soviet Union was in fragmentation, Armenia took advantage of Azerbaijan’s weakness and Soviet backing and, by using military force, conquered Nagorno-Karabach and the adjacent regions, 20% of the Azeri territory.
One million Azerbaijanis, residents of these occupied regions and Nagorno-Karabach, became refugees in their country. The international community, since the ceasefire in 1994, has done nothing substantial to peacefully resolve the conflict. The principle that territory cannot be acquired by military force, enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242, is not applied in this case. When it comes to Armenia, no one demands the end of occupation.

Israel gave the entire Sinai Peninsula it had held since 1967 to Egypt when the peace agreement was signed in 1979. In 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from the occupied Gaza Strip, evacuating 8,000 Israeli settlers. Even in according to the Trump plan, Israel has to withdraw from parts of the West Bank when an agreement is achieved.

After all that, Israel has the moral standing to support the Azeri formula for Nagorno-Karabach: Territories for peace.

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