In July, Armenia initiated a brief round of skirmishing with its neighbor Azerbaijan. The two former Soviet republics have had uneasy relations since fighting a war in the 1990s, and the Kremlin has long backed Yerevan, while Baku maintains a more pro-Western orientation. Although Israel has stayed formally neutral in the latest round of the conflict, it has clear interests in it, as Emil Avdaliani explains:
Iran, located to Azerbaijan’s south, is Israel’s archnemesis, while Baku and Tehran have mixed relations. Diplomatic relations exist and bilateral economic contacts are extensive, [but] Baku is nevertheless apprehensive about Iranian moves that could complicate its position in the South Caucasus and Caspian Sea. All of this is heightened by Tehran’s concerns about the allegedly political aspirations of the Azeris in Iran. Tehran thinks that at an opportune moment, this minority might begin to talk of secession and a “Greater Azerbaijan” idea might emerge.
This is all hypothetical, but there is a high level of distrust between the two states. Consider, for example, Azerbaijan’s recent claim that Iran was sending trucks to Nagorno-Karabakh, [the Azeri territory long occupied by Armenia]. Baku summoned Iranian diplomats and accused Tehran of stoking the conflict over the land.
This state of affairs naturally makes Israel a comfortable partner for Azerbaijan. Moreover, from Jerusalem’s perspective, Azerbaijan’s geographic position on Iran’s border makes it an ideal site for the gathering of strategic intelligence. Media sources claim that Israel helped Baku build electronic intelligence-gathering stations along the Azerbaijani border with Iran in the 1990s.