Foreign Affairs
Israel-Azerbaijan: A Balancing Act of Containment and Cooperation

On September 19, Azerbaijan attacked the Nagorno-Karabakh region, ending its brief history as a de facto independent state. The conflict has historical roots, with the most intense phase occurring in the 1980s when the region sought independence from Azerbaijan. In 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence, triggering a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The 1994 ceasefire did not fully resolve tensions, and renewed violence occurred in September 2020, culminating in a ceasefire agreement in November 2020.

The ceasefire between Russia and Azerbaijan involved the construction of the “Zangezur Corridor,” which connected Azerbaijan to its exclave of Nakhchivan. In December 2022, Baku blocked passage through the Lachin Corridor, setting the stage for the Sept. 19 attack, emphasizing the lack of weaponry and support for a counteroffensive.

The recent offensive in the Nagorno-Karabakh region led to the inescapable surrender of the region and the end of its independence. Israel has established an effective alliance with Azerbaijan, selling billions of dollars worth of armaments to the country. Between 2015 and 2019, Israel was the source of 60% of Azerbaijan’s average annual arms purchases. Azerbaijan produced drones, mainly intelligence and tactical drones, through a joint venture between its Ministry of Defense Industry and Israeli company Aeronautics Defense Systems.

Israeli company Elta Systems provided Baku with comprehensive digital mapping of Nagorno-Karabakh, giving Azerbaijani forces a significant advantage during operations. An airlift across Turkish and Georgian airspace enabled a steady supply of ammunition and equipment to Azerbaijani forces during the 2020 conflict.

Israel gains from this alliance by having a premier military intelligence infrastructure with an anti-Iranian focus, strategically positioned on Azerbaijan’s territory on the border with Iran. Both countries share a desire to contain Iran, and containment is a key priority for Israel’s security. Azerbaijan, with a Shiite majority, is highly secularized with one of the lowest religious practices worldwide.

Azerbaijani authorities fear Iran may exploit religious factors to influence Baku, leading to the emergence of the Huseynyuns, an armed group linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, as a threat. Iranian parliament members have raised doubts about the validity of borders between the two countries, citing Azerbaijani citizens’ desire to reunite with Iran and eliminate Turkish and Israeli influences in the Caucasus.

The Islamic Republic is at odds with Azerbaijan due to the “Zangezur Corridor” in the November 2020 ceasefire agreement, which Tehran claims would change borders, hindering Iranian access to Armenia. Cooperation between Baku and Tel Aviv includes the construction of electronic spy stations on Azerbaijan’s southern borders, allowing Mossad to establish an advanced base of operations and make its airports available for Israeli use. Cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan extends beyond military to economic projects.

Israeli companies are assisting in reconstruction projects in the “liberated areas” of Nagorno-Karabakh, while Tel Aviv is focusing on agricultural production to address the global wheat shortage caused by the Ukraine war. Israel heavily relies on Baku oil, with 65% of its crude oil coming from Azerbaijan in 2021.

The strategic, military, and economic interests between Israel and Azerbaijan have shaped their relations, providing mutual benefits on security and economic fronts. Israel’s role as a major supplier of armaments, particularly drones, has given Azerbaijan an advantage in military operations and allowed Baku to carry out a successful offensive in just 24 hours, forcing Nagorno-Karabakh to surrender. This cooperation is crucial in shaping the balance of power and geopolitical dynamics in the Caucasus area, highlighting the global intertwining of regions and the expansion of regional interests beyond their borders.

AzerbaijanIsraelIsrael-AzerbaijanIsrael-Azerbaijan: A Balancing Act of Containment and Cooperation