The Lessons of Israeli-Egyptian Peace for the Caucasus

June 8, 2023 | Gerald Steinberg
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Last month, the U.S. hosted talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two countries that have been in a formal state of war since before they officially gained independence from the USSR. The talks were then continued under EU auspices in Moldova. Resolving this conflict could have important ramifications for Israel, Iran, the U.S., and Russia. To Gerald Steinberg, Baku and Yerevan—as well as the American mediators—could learn some useful lessons from the Egypt-Israel negotiations of the 1970s:

In both conflicts, the exploration of the potential for a negotiated resolution that satisfies the vital interests of the two parties followed a series of very costly wars and, in the language of conflict management, “a mutually hurting stalemate.” For Israel and Egypt, exhaustion after the bitter war of 1973 (following earlier clashes in 1948, 1956, and 1967), led both countries to cooperate with the U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger in the first direct talks between officials from Cairo and Jerusalem. These talks produced two disengagement agreements that opened the door for broader peace negotiations.

In 2020, the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which followed over 30 years of conflict, ended with Baku recapturing much of the Karabakh region following a successful campaign based on heavy use of drones and other advanced technology. However, the ceasefire lines left the countries dependent on one another for access to areas where citizens from the other side continue to live. . . . In many ways, this is similar to the Egyptian-Israeli status quo after the ceasefire and disengagement agreements.

The circumstances for Azerbaijan and Armenia are different, but the leaders will need to watch the American and European mediation efforts for agendas that divert the focus from the shared objectives. And like the Soviet Union 40 years ago, Russia under Putin can be expected to act as a spoiler, using force and threats to maintain influence.

Russia continues to be directly involved in supporting and arming Armenia, including maintaining bases in its territory and moving invisible arms shipments overland from Iran through this area. However, Russia’s power has been reduced by the morass in Ukraine and the failures of its weapons in the 2020 conflict with Azerbaijan, giving [Armenia’s] Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan room to maneuver.

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