The war in Artsakh, or more commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, has exposed that international relations is not so black and white, and rather there are massive grey areas. As Armenia stands virtually alone, relying on mostly Soviet and Yugoslav-era weaponry, Azerbaijan enjoys the support of two regional powers, Turkey and Israel. Turkey and Israel cooperate differently with Azerbaijan, but just as decisively in support of Ilham Aliyev.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an arms sale agreement with the Azeri president in 2016 knowing that the sophisticated Israeli-built drones had only one target – Armenians. In the complicated game of alliances that unfolds in the Caucasus, the Shi’ite Muslim-majority country of Azerbaijan has excellent relations with Israel, especially as Baku recognized the Jewish State shortly after it achieved independence from the Soviet Union. In fact, relations are so close that Azerbaijan is a major gas and oil provider for Israel. Tel Aviv and Baku have even signed an agreement whereby Israeli jets can use Azerbaijani airports in an attack against Iranian nuclear installations in the event of a war between the two competing countries.
Iran, which has an Armenian community of up to 300,000 individuals, partially recognizes the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire and the Young Turks organization in 1915. However, Iran also has 15 million ethnic Azeri citizens, making it the largest minority group in the country. The Azeris could very easily develop demands for autonomy or independence.
Tehran urges both Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a negotiated solution, but also makes it clear that “the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan.” Iran carefully calibrates its diplomacy on sensitive issues in the Caucasus, where another major geopolitical rival, Turkey, has powerfully emerged hoping to become a major player in the region and thus opening up a new front of Turkish expansionism.
The Turkish involvement in support of Azerbaijan extends its aggressive pursuit in controlling hydrocarbons. Turkey’s aggression against Cyprus and Greece in the East Mediterranean, its defense of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Libya, and its drive to occupy large areas of Syria and Iraq, is all intrinsically linked to its ambition of dominating hydrocarbon fields and routes. Turkey as a massive country of 85 million people has very little domestic energy and is entirely reliant on external sources. With an ambition of becoming a Top 10 economy by 2023, it is energy starved and has decided to take an aggressive foreign policy to secure energy at favorable prices, going as far as even trading with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq for oil.
The Azeris, as cultural and linguistic kin with the Turks, share brotherly sentiment with Turkey. It is why both Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are often heard saying that Azerbaijan and Turkey constitute “one nation in two states.” The Azeris suffered a morale blow in July despite initiating hostilities. In the four-day skirmish, a general and two army colonels of the Azerbaijani military, who made no gains against the Armenian forces despite superior manpower, technology and weaponry, were killed. Turkey had to become more directly involved in the unresolved conflict to secure its energy routes from Azerbaijan. In fact, Armenians believe that after Artsakh, the Azerbaijanis and Turks next want to invade Armenia’s Syunik province so that there will be an unhindered border between Turkey and Azerbaijan proper.
The current Azeri offensive to capture Artsakh, which is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan but has always maintained an Armenian-majority spanning over 2,500 years, saw the direct intervention of Turkey to defend their “Azeri brothers.” Erdoğan once again utilized his proxy mercenary army by opening recruitment offices in Syria. Many factions of the Syrian opposition have criticized sending fighters abroad that would be necessary in the upcoming battles against the Syrian Army.
After July’s humiliating defeat, Azerbaijan’s long-time Foreign Minister, Elmar Mammadyarov, regarded as “pro-Russian,” was fired and replaced by the “pro-Turk” Jeyhun Bayramov. From then on, the Turkish propaganda campaign in support of the “recovery” of Artsakh was accentuated in the local press to prepare public opinion for the new Erdoğan-sponsored aggression. It was not lost that Turkey hypocritically occupies Northern Cyprus in contradiction of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Effectively, Turkey and Israel, despite significant hostilities and tensions between the two, are finding themselves on the same side of the conflict in Artsakh. Both Turkey and Israel are Azerbaijan’s closest military partners. Armenia withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv just weeks after it first opened in protest of Israeli-made drones being sold to Azerbaijan.
Although the argument could be made that the Israeli-Azerbaijani relationship is mutually beneficial because of the “arms for oil” trade, Israel’s peace deal with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain is a gamechanger. One of the reasons Erdoğan was one of the loudest critics of the peace deal between these three countries, despite Turkey being the first Muslim-majority country to recognize the Jewish State, is because Israel now no longer has to rely on Azerbaijani oil that is delivered via Turkey. In fact, there are opportunities for Israel to make similar airbase-use deals with the UAE and Bahrain to pressurize Iran as they have already made with Azerbaijan.
In fact, only last week Erdoğan said that “Jerusalem is our city, a city from us,” which surely would have created anger in Israel. With Israel’s reliance on Azerbaijan and Turkey weakening, it is likely that relations will become even more tense as more Arab countries begin to recognize the Jewish state. However, until this occurs, both Turkey and Israel are finding itself on the same side of the conflict in Artsakh, with Israeli military equipment still being delivered via Turkish and Georgian airspace to reach its destination in Azerbaijan.
Pressure is increasing within Israel to halt the delivery of such equipment. With more Arab states recognizing Israel, there is a strong possibility that it could weaken its relations with both Turkey and Azerbaijan as the reliance on these two states is diminishing. For this, Erdoğan will continue his bombastic language and threats against Israel. The Artsakh War coupled with Arab recognition may very well see Turkey further isolated as Israel will keep turning its back to the Turks and looking forward towards the Arabs.