If you haven’t been following recent events, today’s news that Israel inked a $1.6 billion arms deal with Azerbaijan would surprise you. But the small, former Soviet republic, whose strategic location bordering on the Caspian Sea and near the Black Sea made it a crucial country petroleum-wise a century ago, has found itself in the middle of Israeli-Iranian hostilities, and appears to have chosen Israel’s side against the country on its southern border.
Earlier this month, when the most recent assassination of an Iran nuclear scientist occurred, seemingly out of nowhere Iran summoned the Azeri ambassador in Tehran. About a week later, Azerbaijan announced it had apprehended Hezbollah and Iran operatives who had planned to attack Israelis in the capital of Baku (this was right around the time Israeli interests in India, Thailand, and Georgia—the last being Azerbaijan’s Caucasian neighbor—were attacked). Iran denied it.
And then there’s oil, the thing that originally brought Azerbaijan fame. (Baku was once the world’s most famous oil port.) An Azeri pipeline helps deliver as much as one-third of Israel’s oil. The pipeline is potentially threatened by Armenia. Tim Judah goes into much greater detail here.
Suffice to say that, as with Greece, a rapidly changing geopolitical climate has Israel scrambling for new friends to protect its own interests. So get to know Azerbaijan. Supposed to be lovely in the spring.
Israel Signs $1.6 Billion Arms Deal With Azerbaijan [AP/Haaretz]
Iran Summons Azeri Envoy Over Scientist Killing [Reuters]
Azerbaijan: Iranian, Hezbollah Operatives Arrested [Haaretz]
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.