Israel current and future policies Caucasus, Caucasus Exchange

By | Dr. Frank Musmar

December 26, 2020 

Recap of the Caucasus Exchange Network event, December 26, which commenced at 12pm EST on Dec. 26. 

The Caucuses’ war is both a humanitarian catastrophe and a significant failure for the decaying European Union to be a strategic actor. The Caucuses area became a battleground for other international players, including Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Israel. Because the South Caucasus is just north of the Middle East, south of Russia, and east of Turkey, it is unavoidable that the changing Middle East will impact it.

For Israel, Iran has been critical of Armenia’s relations with Israel; Iran’s threat will predominate for years to come, and Azerbaijan has much more to offer than Armenia. Azerbaijan had no history of antisemitism, and it is the land of the most prominent Jewish community in the caucuses, while in a survey of 1,900 people in 2005 by the Armenian Centre for Strategic and National Research, 5.2 percent of the Armenian said that Jews were responsible for organizing the Armenian Genocide along with Turkey.

The Israeli option to attack Iran’s nuclear sites using Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack. The most prominent Israeli weakness to attack Iran’s nuclear site is refueling, reconnaissance, and rescuing crews. The Azeri alliance could tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is a secular Shiite Muslim that is relatively independent of Turkish foreign policy decisions despite their “brotherly ties.” Israel has a sizeable Azeri-Jewish population, and Israel and Azerbaijan have a strategic partnership that has been successfully blossoming in economic, cultural, developmental, and military cooperation. Azerbaijan has a 2,500year-old Jewish community that has benefited from religious tolerance. Azerbaijan was the rare majority-Muslim country to recognize Israel after the fall of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, no country in Eurasia has closer or warmer ties with Israel than Azerbaijan. The relationship between the two countries is astonishing because Azerbaijan is a majority Muslim country. Over the 25-year history of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. Moreover, the top Jewish-American organizations quietly support Azerbaijan.

The Israeli economy is the most developed in the Middle East that requires uninterrupted and secure energy supplies. Since 2010, Israel and Azerbaijan’s core relationship based on a weapons-for-energy calculation. The latest $1.6-billion arms deal involving dozens of Israeli drones, Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile and rocket system for Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea crude is well documented. Israel received almost half of its oil needs from Azerbaijan.

Like Israel, Azerbaijan views Iran as a geostrategic rival. It reportedly has agreed to allow Israel to use its territory to carry out intelligence operations and even airstrikes against the Islamic Republic.

Baku is concerned about Iran’s expansionist plans, genociding the Iranian’s Azeri minority, support Armenia, and the historical occupation of the Azeri land. Israel considers Azerbaijan an alliance regardless of Azerbaijan voting in favor of the Palestinians in the U.N. Israel understands that Azerbaijan maintains ties with other Muslim countries that might feel uncomfortable with its partnership with Israel.

Armenia

Armenia is cut off from most of the region and depends on trade and economic survival on Russia and Iran, two countries that are hardly friends of Israel. Yerevan’s relations with Iran and Jerusalem’s with Turkey have generated an atmosphere of mistrust between the two capitals. Armenia has consistently voted in favor of the Palestinians at the U.N., and many Armenians in Arab countries have supported “resistance” against Israel even though Israel is home to an Armenian population.

Future Policies

The Geopolitical changes and peace agreements in the Middle East and the region necessitate a new Israeli strategy to maintain ties with Azerbaijan while expanding them with Armenia. Jerusalem will adopt a balanced policy in the area, cultivating a profound friendship with Armenia without abandoning Azerbaijan’s alliance.
Turkey has gone from a friend of Israel to Israel’s most sophisticated geopolitical rival.

Ankara supports Hamas, crushes Israel’s Kurdish allies, and competes with Israel’s economic gas interests in the Mediterranean. Jerusalem might abandon its apprehension about offending Ankara and recognize the Armenian Genocide. A distancing of the Ankara-Jerusalem relationship could lead to a reciprocal draw-down in Yerevan and Tehran’s ties.

Israel’s peace agreement with UAE and Bahrain created an alternative oil supplier that will compete with Baku oil. Baku should consider different approaches with Israel to keep the Israeli arms supplies flowing. Accordingly, Israel may create a balance of arms supplies to Armenia and Azerbaijan, empowering the Israeli and NATO role in the rea and offset the Russian, Turkish and Iranian influence in the caucuses.

Israel’s gas production is anticipated to exceed demand by 80% in 2020 thanks to production from Leviathan. This will enable Israel to become a gas exporter in the Eastern Mediterranean. (The Karish field, which has recoverable reserves of 1.7 tcf [60 bcm], is also under development and is expected to start supplying the domestic market in 2021.) Connecting the Levantine basin with Europe via Cyprus and Crete will change the equation of gas corridors in the area.

The Leviathan, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy pipeline was not welcomed by Turkey. In 2016, Israel proposed the possibility to transport its natural gas to Europe via the Azari based the southern Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline [TANAP] through Turkey. Accordingly, on June 26, Israel and Turkey agreed to normalize their relations with the hope that a diplomatic rapprochement might smooth the way for an agreement on transporting Israeli gas to Turkey. Such a deal would diminish Turkey’s gas dependence on Russia and help Turkey diversify its sources of energy supplies. Turkey was not included in the agreement to build the EastMed pipeline signed by Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. Instead, Turkey has focused its energies more on disrupting other nations’ development of these resources than attempting to develop its own.

In October 2020, MED-RED Land Bridge, an Emirati/Israeli owned company, and EAPC, the Israeli-owned pipeline company signed a memorandum of  understanding to store and transport oil from the UAE to Europe. The pipeline, which will run across Israel from the Red Sea port of Eilat to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, will significantly cut the time and expense needed to transport fuels from the UAE to Europe.

Israel being at the heart of the growing geostrategic war conflict in the Middle East and East Mediterranean region are expecting the potentials for conflict in an already unstable region, expanding the power play to include Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy, and Libya, as well as Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, the caucuses and Russia. If the EastMed pipeline and MED-RED Land Bridge become a reality, Turkey, Russia, and Azerbaijan will stand to lose the most.