Viewing cable 09BAKU20_a: Azerbaijan's Discreet Symbiosis with Israel
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK
DE RUEHKB #0020/01 0131243
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 131243Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAKU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0592
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV PRIORITY 0059
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0864
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 1238
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0329
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 BAKU 000020
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/13/2029
TAGS: PGOV, PRL, PTER, AJ, IS, IR
SUBJECT: AZERBAIJAN'S DISCREET SYMBIOSIS WITH ISRAEL
REF: A. IIR 6 941 0165 09//USDAO BAKU//061207ZJAN09 (NOTAL)
B. 08 BAKU 1119
C. BAKU 17
Classified By: POL/ECON COUNSELOR ROB GARVERICK,
REASONS 1.4 B AND D
1.(C) Summary. Azerbaijan's relations with Israel are discreet but close. Each country finds it easy to identify with the other's geopolitical difficulties and both rank Iran as an existential security threat. Israel's world-class defense industry with its relaxed attitude about its customer base is a perfect match for Azerbaijan's substantial defense needs that are largely left unmet by the United States, Europe and Russia for various reasons tied to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Aptly described by Azerbaijani President Aliyev as being "like an iceberg, nine-tenths of it is below the surface," this relationship is also marked by a pragmatic recognition by Israel of Azerbaijan's political need to hew publicly and in international forums to the OIC,s general line. End Summary.
2. (U) This cable is based on Embassy interactions with Israeli colleagues in Baku and with Azerbaijani MFA officials whom we have demarched on Israeli issues.
Common Threat, Quiet Cooperation
3. (C) Much like Israel, Azerbaijan perceives Iran as a major, even existential security threat, and the two countries, cooperation flows from this shared recognition. The (U.S.-born) Israeli Ambassador in Baku, Arthur Lenk, often conveys his country's empathy by remarking with dark humor that if he "had the chance to exchange neighborhoods, with Azerbaijan, I wouldn't do it." Even open sources have identified an extensive relationship between the countries, intelligence services that even predated the presidency of Heydar Aliyev and it only stands to reason that this remains a major area of cooperation which both sides naturally seek to downplay.
4. (C) The Azerbaijani authorities assiduously protect Israeli interests in Baku. For example, the DCM of the Baku Embassy told Emboff that the GOAJ had noticeably improved local security at the Israeli Embassy when the most recent operations began in Gaza. When authorities got word of a planned demonstration on January 2, they dispatched buses to the place where the protesters were preparing to set off for the Embassy and arrested them on the spot. Police detained 25 of the 150 demonstrators rounded up, and 20 of them were sentenced to 10 or 15 days, detention. In sharp contrast, the GOAJ allows demonstrators to picket the Iranian Embassy, so long as the subject of the protest is the treatment of Azeris in Iran. In connection with the December 2 demonstration, the Israeli Embassy told us that they "never even saw" the demonstrators and made no requests before or after that anyone be held in custody.
Symbiosis on Weapons
5. (C) Through its close relations with Israel, Azerbaijan gets a level of access to the quality weapon systems it needs to develop its army that it can not obtain from the U.S. and Europe due to various legal limitations, nor from its ex-Soviet suppliers, Belarus and Ukraine. Where other Western nations are reluctant to sell ground combat systems to the Azerbaijanis for fear of encouraging Azerbaijan to resort to war to regain NK and the occupied territories, Israel is free to make substantial arms sales and benefits greatly from deals with its well-heeled client. In September 2008 (again in a little-publicized affair) the GOAJ signed an extensive agreement with the Israeli Defense Ministry providing for three Israeli companies to provide mortars, ammunition, rocket artillery and radio equipment. The company "Soltam" got the contract to provide mortars and ammunition, "Tadiran Communications" will provide radio gear, and Israeli Military Industries will provide the rockets. IMI sells a range of rocket artillery and BAKU
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accessories ranging from upgrade kits for Soviet vintage BM-21 "Grad" 122mm systems, guidance packages for 122mm-300mm rockets and launch vehicles for up to 300mm rockets. It was not clear what exactly the Azerbaijanis bought, as the deal was simply described as being worth "hundreds of millions of dollars." Azerbaijan already operates IMI's 122mm "Lynx" multiple-launch rocket system, which it mounts on a KAMAZ 63502 heavy truck.
6. (S/NF) Recent USDAO reporting also indicates that the GOAJ through its Ministry of Defense Industries has created a joint venture with an Israeli entity to produce unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This venture will have 51 per cent GOAJ ownership and is distinct from the arrangements reported in para. 5 above.
The "Iceberg" - Political Pragmatism
7.(C) Israeli contacts tell us that President Aliyev aptly described the bilateral relationship as "an iceberg; nine-tenths of it is below the surface" during the May 2008 visit of Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon. The sentiment is accurate because Baku balances its cordial relations with the Jewish state with its perceived responsibilities in to the OIC. Therefore Azerbaijan does not maintain an embassy in Israel, it dutifully (although weakly) criticizes Israeli military operations in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, and in international organizations supports the OIC line and avoids any chance of angering Iran. When Emboff delivered demarches on the UNGA Israel resolutions recently (Reftel A), our MFA contact explained that Azerbaijan would follow the OIC line and that there was "an understanding" with Israel about Azerbaijan's voting behavior. Our Israeli contacts do not use the same word but acknowledge that they do not attempt to pressure Azerbaijan on these questions. The relationship also affects U.S. policy insofar as Azerbaijan tries, often successfully, to convince the U.S. pro-Israel lobby to advocate on its behalf.
7. (C) The relationship does have its limits; it does not translate into any preferential treatment for Israeli investors or capital in Azerbaijan (Note: this hardly sets Israel apart among countries whose citizens invest here. End note.) With some humor, the Israeli DCM told us that Israeli businessmen expressed to her that they prefer corruption in Kazakhstan to that of Azerbaijan because in Kazakhstan one can expect to pay exorbitant "fees" to do business but those are generally collected at once, up front, whereas in Azerbaijan the demands for bribes never cease.
8. (C) Israel's relations with Azerbaijan are based strongly on pragmatism and a keen appreciation of priorities. Israel's main goal is to preserve Azerbaijan as an ally against Iran, a platform for reconnaissance of that country and as a market for military hardware. In order to ensure those goals, the Israelis have keenly attuned themselves to the GOAJ's needs as an OIC member and a state (like Israel) wedged between large, powerful and unfriendly neighbors. They forgo the option of pressuring the GOAJ on secondary issues to secure the primary ones. It is apparent to us that for now both sides are well satisfied with the bilateral state of affairs.