Israel could become a training hub for security and counterterrorism units from Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries concerned about Islamic State and other terrorist groups, according to Michael Brodsky, Israel’s envoy to Kazakhstan.
In advance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic visit to Kazakhstan next week, Brodsky wrote in The Astana Times on Wednesday that “Israel’s counterterrorism experience and training have always been of great value for Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet countries, but following a series of terrorist attacks in different Kazakh cities over the last year, the importance of closer cooperation in this field is now more evident than ever.”
In addition to facing Islamic State threats, Kazakhstan, like a number of other Central Asian countries, are also “struggling to prevent infiltration of extremists from neighboring Afghanistan,” Brodsky pointed out.
Diplomatic officials said that Kazakhstan has admitted that several hundreds of its nationals have joined Islamic State fighting in Syria, and the country is concerned about possible home-grown terrorism when they return. Kazakhstan is very keen on tapping into Israel’s counterterrorism experience, the officials said.
Netanyahu is scheduled to leave next Tuesday for a brief visit in Azerbaijan, where he visited for a few hours in 1997 during his first term as prime minister, and from there continue on to Kazakhstan for two days for the first-ever visit there by an Israeli prime minister. Both states are majority-Muslim countries.
The visit is taking place just two weeks before Kazakhstan will take up a two-year rotating stint on the UN Security Council, giving the trip added diplomatic significance.
Kazakhstan almost always votes against Israel in international forums, something that certainly will be raised during Netanyahu’s visit.
Last month Daniel Meron, head of the Foreign Ministry’s UN and International Organizations Division, visited Kazakhstan to discuss greater cooperation between the two countries in the UN and other international forums.
Israeli officials have in the past explained Kazakhstan’s poor voting record as an effort to align itself both with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of which it is a member, and with Russia, which almost always votes against Israel.
Brodsky wrote that apart from “expanding ties with the moderate part of the Muslim world,” Netanyahu’s visit will allow an upgrade in bilateral ties from “ad hoc” cooperation to a “strategic partnership.”
“In the early 1990s, Israel was among the first countries to recognize the independence of the newly emerged states of Central Asia and to reach out to five new countries of the region,” Brodsky wrote. “For us, it was a unique opportunity to make new friends in the Muslim world and also to create alternatives for our energy market.”
Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are Israel’s chief suppliers of oil.
“Amid low oil prices and the declining demand for traditional energy resources in the world, Kazakhstan, whose economy is primarily based on hydrocarbons’ export, is facing serious economic challenges, and the Israeli expertise and technologies are urgently needed to boost economic growth and to assist in [Kazakh President] Nursultan Nazarbayev’s economic diversification efforts,” Brodsky wrote.
Netanyahu’s visit follows by some four months a visit to Israel by Kazakhstan’s Defense Minister Imangali Nurgaliuly Tasmagambetov .
During that visit an agreement was reached on the joint production of unmanned aerial vehicles. The UAVs, using Israeli technology, are to be manufactured in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has the potential, according to Israeli officials, to become one of the major markets in the world for Israeli weapons systems.
During his stay in Astana, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Nazarbayev, who has been president for some 27 years; meet the chairman of the Senate, the No. 2 man in the country; take part in a business seminar; and meet representatives of the small Jewish community there, which numbers between 5,000 and 10,000 people.
Nazarbayev developed a good relationship over the years with Shimon Peres, who visited the country as president in 2009.