The ongoing armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is turning out to be one of the most peculiar confrontations in the Middle East. What seems like a Turkey-backed Azerbaijan launching an assault on a Russia-backed Armenia is actually a complicated geopolitical issue riddled with contradictions. Take, for example, Israel- the Jewish homeland in West Asia is surprisingly supplying military assets to a Muslim-majority, pro-Turkey Azerbaijan in the ongoing conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
For Israel, supporting Azerbaijan whenever Baku and Yerevan cross swords has always made a lot of sense. Azerbaijani Turks are an ethnic minority in Iran, and Tehran harbours a serious apprehension of Azerbaijani Turks developing separatist tendencies. Israel has, of course, always tried to play up this situation by supporting Azerbaijan to wear down its longstanding enemy- Iran. But Israel must realise that geopolitics of the region has changed and by supporting a Turkish ally, it is only shooting itself in the foot.
And even apart from the Iran factor, other motivations associated with an Israel-Azerbaijan partnership like oil-for-arms and recognition of a Jewish Israel by a Muslim-majority country have also become anachronistic. The Gulf has come to embrace Israel with countries like the UAE and Bahrain establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. Thus, Azerbaijan should now be expendable for Israel.
From Israel’s point of view, the urge to support a potential Iranian enemy is not very difficult to understand. However, Israel has itself started understanding that Turkey is a bigger threat to the Jewish country. In fact, according to The Times, the head of Israel’s Intelligence agency Mossad, Yossi Cohen recently said that Turkey is a bigger threat than Iran while talking to his Egyptian, Emirati and Saudi counterparts.
And Cohen didn’t exaggerate the Turkish threat. Riding on Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s neo-Ottoman ambitions, Ankara has been constantly trying to harm Israel. Recently, Turkish President and wannabe Caliph Erdoğan went as far as saying, “Jerusalem is our city,” while referring to the four centuries-long Ottoman rule over Jerusalem.
Erdoğan said “In this city, which we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So, Jerusalem is our city, a city from us.” For Israel, there cannot be a bigger security threat than a Turkish President claiming Jerusalem as a part of his neo-Ottoman ambitions.
But what is Turkey doing in Azerbaijan? It is following the same neo-Ottoman ambitions which go as far as claiming Jerusalem. For Turkey, the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict has a Central Asia link. Turkey lacks a direct link to Central Asia, and the only roadblocks are Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. Attacking Armenia and taking control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region is, therefore, a part of Erdoğan’s dreams to unite the Turkic world from Central Asia to Turkey under Ankara’s leadership.
Even from a strategic standpoint, Israel is not supposed to be helping Turkey realise its ambitions of uniting the Turkic world, because that would be the beginning of Erdoğan’s neo-Ottoman ambitions, which would pose a threat to Israel itself. For Israel, helping Armenia to weaken down Turkey is a much better deal than thinking that helping Azerbaijan would debilitate Iran.
And then if Israel thinks that Azerbaijan will help Israel as an ally, it is grossly mistaken. Azerbaijan is an Islamic-revivalist nation that would remain Turkey’s lackey for a long time to come. Baku will not choose Israel over Turkey, if and when asked to make a choice. Azerbaijan has been looking to backstab Israel already. Baku has deepened its Iran ties, even though the fulcrum of Israel-Azerbaijan relationship is battling a common enemy in Iran.
The supply of Israeli arms to Azerbaijan didn’t stop Baku, for example, from selling 10 per cent stake in its major oil pipelines to Tehran. Iran itself has been looking to expand cooperation with Azerbaijan and Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran, himself considers better ties with Azerbaijan a priority. Amidst the ongoing conflict too, Iranian officials have expressed support for Baku.
So, what has Israeli arms supply to Azerbaijan achieved? Baku hasn’t really gone out of its way to harm Iran to thank Israel for its support. Ultimately, if Azerbaijan gets an upper hand over Armenia, Turkey will become stronger, and then Turkey and Azerbaijan would form an anti-Israel axis. Israeli arms are thus creating a threat for Israel itself.
It is now for Israel to realise that it is shooting itself in the foot by helping Azerbaijan, which is becoming more and more of a Turkish Client State. Israel should, therefore, remodel its Caucasus strategy and befriend Armenia as against Azerbaijan.