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High alert for Iranian disruption of Herzog visit to Azerbaijan

30.05.23 13:26

Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Azerbaijan was planned with even greater levels of security than usual, amid concerns that Iran would attempt to disrupt the visit.

The Iranian border with Azerbaijan is about 100 km from the capital, Baku.

“Azerbaijan is a neighbor of Iran, a destabilizing force in the region seeking to undermine Israeli alliances of peace and security in the region,” Herzog said on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport.

The Shiite Muslim country, which opened embassy an in Israel earlier this year is “a friendly state, a key state with a lot of areas of cooperation,” Herzog said.

Azeri forces and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) shut down entire areas of Baku for Herzog’s visit. Thousands of soldiers and police offers were tasked with patrolling the capital.

In an unusual move, the entire delegation was prohibited from connecting their phones to cellular networks or from separating from the group during the visit.

Herzog was met by an honor guard and children from the local Chabad school at the airport, before heading to the presidential palace outside Baku for an official welcome ceremony.

During the two-day visit, Herzog is set to hold a diplomatic meeting with his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, followed by a lunch event, which the presidents’ wives will join.

In the evening, the president will hold a special event marking the 75th anniversary of Israel's independence.

Health and Interior Minister Moshe Arbel plans to accompany Herzog to Azerbaijan, where he plans to meet with his counterparts in Baku to discuss greater cooperation in training doctors, emergency preparedness and digital health.Israel and Azerbaijan are expected to sign an agreement on health cooperation during the visit.

The Herzogs plan to meet with members of the Jewish community in Azerbaijan. They are expected to be met at the airport by 30 children from the Chabad school in Baku, who will wave the flags of Israel and Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan opened an embassy in Israel for the first time this March. Israel has had an embassy in Baku since 1993.Baku had been hesitant to open an embassy in Israel in the past to avoid alienating other Muslim-majority states or provoking Iran. But it saw the Abraham Accords and Israel’s rapprochement with Turkey, in which Aliyev played a part, as turning points.

Azerbaijan's strengthening relations with Israel

Israel and Azerbaijan have a close defense relationship. Jerusalem supplied drones to Baku that were used in its 2020 war with Armenia, according to foreign reports.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that 69% of Azerbaijan’s arms imports in 2016-2020 came from Israel, which represented 17% of Israel’s arms exports in that period.About 40% of the petroleum imported to Israel comes from Azerbaijan.

Azeri politicians attributed the move to open an embassy in Israel to Iran opening an additional consulate and declaring close ties with Armenia, with which Azerbaijan fought a war in 2020.

Iran and Azerbaijan share a 670-kilometer border, and there has long been speculation that Israel has launched covert operations in Iran from its northern neighbor.

Last year, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian accused Israel of having “established its presence in several regions of Azerbaijan.” Baku denied the accusation.

Soon after, Iran staged a military drill along the border. Aliyev responded by having himself photographed with Israeli Harop kamikaze drones that were produced in his country, Jerusalem Post reports.
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