Ambassador Dan Stav: Israel, Azerbaijan enjoy excellent relations in defense sector - INTERVIEW

Ambassador Dan Stav: Israel, Azerbaijan enjoy excellent relations in defense sector - <span style="color: red;">INTERVIEW
# 27 March 2018 11:15 (UTC +04:00)

Q: How did bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Israel develop during your term as Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan?

A: I think that political relations between Israel and Azerbaijan have been excellent since the establishment of the independent state of Azerbaijan. So the issue is just to do fine things and be more relevant to each other in the areas of need. If Azerbaijan is facing challenges because of the oil and gas price slump and wants to diversify its economy, Israel of course stands ready in order to be relevant to Azerbaijan in its time of hardship. Indeed, I think the major focus of the Israeli embassy during my term here is to strengthen the civilian aspect of relations, and to find the areas where we can be relevant. This includes tourism as well, because tourism is one of the most important service sectors targeted by President Ilham Aliyev’s administration. I think you have tremendous potential in the area of agriculture. I don’t have to tell you but your country is said to have 9 climate zones, very fertile land, high-quality water resources. So the idea is that if we can be relevant in helping you or cooperating with you more accurately to maximize the potential production here, especially when Azerbaijan has very good markets around it. That is to say, Israeli technology and investment can be relevant and very profitable for both sides.

Q: Your term was also historical due to the first visit of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Azerbaijan. How did relations change after that visit?

A: This visit was the peak of the high level meetings between President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Netanyahu because they keep meeting almost every year in Davos or elsewhere. Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Azerbaijan on 13 December 2016, after 20 years. It was historical because he came with a real agenda and both leaders agreed on a certain agenda. As I said before, the most important issue was indeed to strengthen and streamline the efforts to make the civilian anchor of relations stronger. So in this regard, President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed upon the establishment of a joint intergovernmental commission that will hold annual meetings, one year in Israel and the following year in Azerbaijan, to discuss what each country wants and what the expectations are. I think it is the most important progress in this regard because until then you can say that ‘Yes, there are good contacts, Israel companies are operating in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan’s energy companies were active in Israel, but there were no coordinated efforts to build comprehensive relations in the economic field.’ As I said before, because of the changes in the world economy and the challenges in the energy sector, these changes are creating a new reality and this committee is very important tool. The first meeting of the intergovernmental commission will be held in Israel in mid-May and will really upgrade relations between the two countries.

Q: There is a tendency to pay a mutual visit right after a high-level visit. So are there any plans or ideas to organize a visit of the Azerbaijani President to Israel?

A: I think that the current level of our relations is quite tight and generally our relations are of strategic nature. Mutual visits are of course very welcome. If President Ilham Aliyev wishes to visit Israel, we would welcome him. It is an honor for us to organize a visit for the head of state. It should definitely be discussed. For the time being, there is no such plan, if I am not mistaken.

Q: We know that Israel has advanced high technologies. Azerbaijan also intends to develop this sector. Are there any plans to cooperate in this area or bring Israel experience to Azerbaijan?

A: I think it is also a very important domain for bilateral cooperation. The young generation in Israel and in Azerbaijan is really energetic with many ideas. The key issue is to establish conductive environment where their qualities and entrepreneurship can be supported and used for the wellbeing of the state for flourishing the economy. What I mean is, Israel has an advanced culture of startups. Many Israel innovations started, you know, with ideas only. We are moving forward with various incubators we have in Israel that promote these entrepreneurs and help them come up with brilliant ideas and turn them into commercial ideas. And then same of Israeli companies that started as startup were sold for billions of dollar. Even some Israeli firms began with startups but were sold for billions of dollars. So I don’t see any reason why it will not happen in Azerbaijan. Israeli youth don’t have a monopoly on wisdom and brilliance, and I am sure that there a lot of young Azerbaijani men and women here with brilliant ideas. Israeli entrepreneur Tal Katran visited Azerbaijan and he participate a workshop organized by a NGO, called “Junior Achievement Azerbaijan”, which is very active in entrepreneurship. I saw the participants and I was deeply impressed and surprised by the equal number of women and men. The same should be in society. I think this is one area that we can cooperate in. We are cooperating at the moment and we can expend our cooperation. You see we always talk about the strengths of our country, about the industry, minerals. But I think the most important resource that the country has is brain. If it has the brain, this country, which has 10 million population, doesn’t have luxury not to use it to the maximum advantage of the society. Give them the favorable environment and they will take your country forward. I am really impressed by the opportunities of young people here. So I think our role here is to let the government know what we are doing in this regard and what can not be copy-pasted and what can be adapted to Azerbaijan in order to achieve results similar to those we have achieved in Israel. So innovation and entrepreneurship is very important to all. What I want to do is to be relevant to any ties between any government authorities that might be interested in learning Israel different domains. It can be anything, even medicine and education. I am glad that there is a lot of interest in this regard in Azerbaijan. I think that understanding that Israel is powerful in this respect and the willingness to check and see what is available and what is relevant to Azerbaijan is a very strong start.

Q: You know Azerbaijan is implementing large-scale projects which provide energy security for Europe. There are some ideas for Israel to join these projects. Are there any developments in this regard?

A: You are absolutely right that the Southern Gas Corridor, TANAP, TAP are very important worldwide projects. As you mentioned, they are enhancing the energy security for EU. The EU is a very important part of the political system of the international community and also for Israel. Certainly, for the country that has recently discovered gas deposit and has a political decision to export a portion of it to Europe, the European market is a very important market for us for various reasons. I think the European market considered to be a stable market in the sense that there are no unpleasant surprises regarding prices or commitment to contracts. My understanding is that Azerbaijan is investing a lot of efforts to find more countries that are exporting gas in order to increase gas volume that will be delivered to Europe through this gas corridor. Israel is also interested to do so. There are thoughts on both sides as to how it can be materialized. I must say that since I arrived here I have seen great interest here in this option. Also, Israel has great interest in the European market and certainly by joining TANAP or doing some swap deals with Turkey and Azerbaijan, Israel gas will go to Turkey and will release Azerbaijani gas to Europe. All of these models can be discussed. It is also one of our priorities to bring together the decision makers in Azerbaijan and Israel in order to find other best mechanisms for cooperation. So TANAP and Southern Gas Corridor projects are only one area. Work is carried out in 25 blocs out of the 67 blocs of offshore gas fields in Israel. We are very keen to see Azerbaijani investment in exploration and production of gas from these fields. It is very important for our economy. This is the part of cooperation that can be considered. Moreover, Azerbaijan has great experience in handling income from energy sources. The State Oil Fund (SOFAZ) is an excellent model in this regard. You have a lot of academic knowledge about energy sector which can be very relevant for us. We can learn a lot from Azerbaijan. And that makes the cooperation between the countries very balanced and very sustainable.

Q: Azerbaijan and Israel enjoy strong relations in the defense area. The Israeli side speaks very little about the cooperation in this direction. Are there new plans for the enhancement of cooperation in the defense area?

A: We have a policy and I think it is very clear. It is a matter of policy that Israel does not discuss openly any details about issues related to the defense sector. It can be related to Azerbaijan, or any country. So I am not in a position to discuss it. I can say that there are excellent relations between Israel and Azerbaijan in defense sector. This will continue, and we do understand that this is an important part of our relations.

Q: Azerbaijanis and Jews have very excellent relations. What the two countries do to preserve these values for next generations?

A: The migration of Azerbaijani Jews to Israel will remain an important anchor in the people-to-people contact between the two countries, because I see that Jews that migrated to Israel and settled there became part and parcel of the society. Many of them are coming back for root visits to see how it is, to show to their kids. I hope this tradition of showing where you come from will be remain for the generations to come, because the fact that Jews decided to migrate to Israel was not because of anti-Semitism, it was not for fear for their life or harassment. It was just a decision to live together with Jews brothers in the land of ancestors in Israel. When they left Azerbaijan, part of their heart stayed in Azerbaijan. Many of them became successful in Israel and devoted considerable part of time to enhancement of the relations between the two countries. We have excellent relations with the Azerbaijan Medical University. The initiator of these relations is Doctor Alex Geftler. He is physician and he is from southern Israel. He was born in Baku. He does not do it for commercial benefits, he does not get allowances, bonuses. He just says that he was successful in Israel and now wants to share his achievements with the brotherly people of Azerbaijan. This is just one example. Firstly, they are proud of where they come from. Also, they understand the importance of the relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. They represent Azerbaijan in Israel. Our friendship is based indeed on very unique component. Some people say there is a reference in the Bible that the Jews community was living on the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea is mentioned as Caspia in the Bible and is attributed to the 5th century B.C. So we speak about 25 hundred years before. I am not a scientist and not in a position to say it but if it is the Caspian I think that is fascinating.

AZIZ - Azerbaijani Israel Friendship Association is very active in Israel. They are disseminating information about Azerbaijan, about its traditions, heritage. They are bringing journalists from Israel to Azerbaijan. In addition, there was a revolution in the field of tourism from October 2017. Huge number of Israelis is coming to Baku regardless of whether they were born here or not. All of them are exceptionally happy here and like the warmth and friendship of Azerbaijani people. And all this further strengthen people-to-people relations.

A number of twin city agreements are signed between some municipalities of Israel and corresponding cities of Azerbaijan on the initiatives of Baku-born Jews, who are active in municipal level in Israel. This is also very important. Only recently, the twin cities agreement was signed between Azerbaijan’s Ismayilli and Israel’s Kiryat Bialik on March 7. The idea of this agreement is to really establish sustainable cooperation in municipal level.

Q: As you mentioned, Jews from Azerbaijan are very active in Israel and they work as an ‘Embassy of Azerbaijan’ there. But Azerbaijan has not yet opened an embassy in Israel. Are there any discussions carried out in this direction?

A: There is no need for discussions on this issue. If Azerbaijan decides to open an embassy in Israel nobody will contradict it. Azerbaijan’s embassy in Israel would have a great agenda. This would envisage economic cooperation, promotion of tourism, taping the knowledge of Israel in many of fields. But obviously I am not in a position to tell Azerbaijan’s authorities what is good for them. What I can say is that we will welcome Azerbaijan’s decision to open an embassy in Israel.

Q: What is Israel’s stance on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

A: I think the most important thing to realize is that Azerbaijan and Israel, despite being involved in conflicts that demand a lot of energy and budgets, were very successful in developing their economies and flourishing their societies. The two countries did all this despite the protracted conflicts. I think everyone understands that a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would be highly desirable. I’m very much encouraged by President Ilham Aliyev’s determination to the peaceful resolution of this conflict. It is very easy to seat in the side and to give advices. And I don’t think particular advices can be given in this regard. I think that certain principles should be followed. First of all, relying on our own experience, I can say that a peaceful solution is desirable. We had wars with all our neighbors. But we were successful when the other side also showed interest to sign a peace agreement. We signed such agreements with our neighbors Egypt and Jordan. I think that it is very important to stabilize the situation in the area. I think it reduces the level of insecurity and allows you to direct more resources to the development of your own country. And it is more desirable to end conflicts between neighboring countries. We did it with direct contacts and with the help of third countries that created conducing environment for these contacts. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia recognize the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group towards the settlement of the conflict. Israel also supports the Minsk Group efforts because they are acceptable for both countries. Many discussions are ongoing in this direction. We welcome the two meetings between the presidents of the two countries held in 2016 and the presidential summit held in 2017. We hope that it will bring about breakthrough. We hope that continued discussions between the governments especially after the elections will give chance to solve this conflict. Azerbaijan is very right in the sense that if the conflict is solved it will be win for everyone, also for Armenia. But again I am not in such a position to dictate for Azerbaijan or Armenia what should be a solution. I just hope, and Israel’s stance is to support the efforts of the Minsk Group to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. We support result-oriented negotiations. We support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Q: The decision by US President Donald Trump to move the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem caused controversy across the world and was rejected by many countries. What is Israel’s position on this issue, as well as on the conflict with Palestine? Has the two-state solution principle failed?

A: I think that Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem is very commendable. The reality is that Jerusalem is a capital of the State of Israel. Whether the most part of the world accepts it or not, weather the reason of the world is motivated by political expediency or any other reason, it is the fact that Jerusalem is a capital of Israel. Jerusalem was the capital of Israel before the rise of Islam, before the rise of Christianity. We always tried to come back the Jerusalem and make it our capital. I think that Trump’s decision caused commotion. He did not talk about the borders of Jerusalem, as well as about the negotiations on a final resolution of the conflict. I think if Palestine wants to have bona fide discussion with Israel and it is determined to find a solution to the conflict, it will be achieved. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu stated in his famous speech in 2007 that Israel accepts a two-state solution. The Palestinian side continues to show reluctance to accept a two-state solution. The matter is not to ignore its framework, but the reason that has behind it, because if we refers to a two-state solution is means that we speak about the two nations. The main issue is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has nothing to do with the status of Jerusalem and the rights of the internal refugees. It is ongoing reluctance of Palestine and many Arab states to accept Jews as a nation and recognize that Jews have right to have self-determination. This stands in the core of the conflict. This is really very regrettable that the international community does not play a constructive role in making Palestine understand that a two-state solution is not the establishment of two “artificial frameworks”, but is the realization of the aspiration of self-determination of the Palestinians in one hand and the Israeli Jews in other hand. I think that any political settlement should be based on a compromise. However, Palestine is reluctant to accept it. A lot of work should be done in this direction. But I am optimist think that it will be achieved, and a two-state solution will remain only visible solution to the conflict.

Q: Another ongoing conflict in the region is the Syrian crisis. There are numerous attempts to solve this conflict. What is Israel’s stance on the solution of the Syrian crisis?

A: This is horrible massacre and is not treated properly by the international community.

I speak about humanitarian dimension. More than half million people were killed and wounded, millions of people became refugees. The international community and human rights organizations are practically doing nothing to protect innocent people. As you know, Israel borders with Syria. Iran uses Syria as a place of aggression against Israel and tries to establish a land corridor for their organization Hezbollah through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Today, Hezbollah wants to launch attacks on Israel from two fronts. This is totally unacceptable to Israel. Our position is that Iran’s military presence in Syria is unacceptable. And I think we made it very much clear. Besides, any attack on the Golan Heights will allow us to exercise the right to self-defense, as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Q: What about the relations with Turkey? Is there any progress in bilateral ties?

A: Turkey is an important country in the region. Despite in some ups and downs in our political relations, our relations in energy and economic spheres developed very well. I hope that these relations will be developed. Israel wants to maintain good relations with all its neighbors. Turkey is part of our extended neighborhood.

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