BAKU – Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Tuesday that his country has, over the years, signed long-term contracts worth some $5 billion to purcashe weapons and security equipment from Israel.
Aliyev was speaking during a state visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Baku, a trip made in part to help Israel sell missile defense systems.
Ilayev did not elaborate on the kind of weapons Azerbaijan is purchasing, but his comments provide some insight into the comfort level Aliyev has in his country’s strategic ties with Israel.
The two leaders signed various bilateral agreements in a private two-hour meeting attended by security and defense advisers from both nations. Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) was also in attendance to sign agreements.
Netanyahu spent six hours in Azerbaijan, a majority Shiite Muslim state which borders Iran, before flying to Kazakhstan for meetings on Wednesday.
There he will meet Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, before returning to Israel on Thursday.
Kazakhstan, a majority Sunni Muslim nation, will hold a rotating seat on the UN Security Council for the next two years.
Netanyahu is visiting Azerbaijan to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between the countries. The prime minister praised the cooperation and friendship between the two nations, saying that with the great “darkness” in some parts of the world, such cooperation could serve as an example of the potential relationship Israel can have with the Muslim world.
The visit comes against the background of hostile relations between Azerbaijan and its southern neighbor Iran, whose leaders have repeatedly condemned Azerbaijani-Israeli ties, and did so again in the past week.
Iran sees the close relationship as a threat to its security, and claims that Azerbaijan serves as a forward base for Israel to gather intelligence and prepare for a potential military strike.
While trade between the countries largely consists of oil sales from Azerbaijan to Israel, Aliyev said in the press conference that he is interested in “diversifying” commerce between the states.
The two leaders took part in a ceremony marking the signing of four economic cooperation agreements in the fields of agriculture, prevention of double taxation, and mutual quality standards.
Also on Tuesday, Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, met with Aliyev’s wife and daughter.
Before departing from Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday, Netanyahu told reporters that not only is Israel not isolated, but it is being courted by many countries around the world, including Muslim states in Central Asia.
Both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan want to strengthen their ties with Israel, Netanyahu said, and “following the strengthening of our relations with powers in Asia, and countries in Africa and Latin America, now comes the connection with important countries in the Muslim world.”
Though Netanyahu briefly visited Azerbaijan during his first term as prime minister in 1997, this will be the first-ever visit of a sitting Israeli prime minister to Kazakhstan.
“Israel’s relations [with the world] is growing at an unprecedented pace,” Netanyahu stressed, noting the “historic” nature of the visit to Kazakhstan.