‘Israel’ arms Baku

WikiLeaks: ‘Israel’ arms Baku. Aliyev bluffs and does not think to recapture Karabakh Publication time: 16 December 2010, 19:27 WikiLeaks has published another set of documents from the “Caucasus file” of the U.S. State Department. A cable from U.S. Ambassador in Azerbaijan says, inter alia, that so-called “Israel” is actively supplying Azerbaijan with weapons because jews consider Baku as an ally against Iran. *** 1. Summary. Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel are discreet but close. Each country finds it easy to identify with the other’s geopolitical difficulties and both rank Iran as an existential security threat. Israel’s world-class defense industry with its relaxed attitude about its customer base is a perfect match for Azerbaijan’s substantial defense needs that are largely left unmet by the United States, Europe and Russia for various reasons tied to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Aptly described by Azerbaijani President Aliyev as being “like an iceberg, nine-tenths of it is below the surface”, this relationship is also marked by a pragmatic recognition by Israel of Azerbaijan’s political need to hew publicly and in international forums to the OIC,s general line. End Summary. 2. This cable is based on Embassy interactions with Israeli colleagues in Baku and with Azerbaijani MFA officials whom we have demarched on Israeli issues. 3. Much like Israel, Azerbaijan perceives Iran as a major, even existential security threat, and the two countries, cooperation flows from this shared recognition. The (U.S.-born) Israeli Ambassador in Baku, Arthur Lenk, often conveys his country’s empathy by remarking with dark humor that if he “had the chance to exchange neighborhoods, with Azerbaijan, I wouldn’t do it”. Even open sources have identified an extensive relationship between the countries, intelligence services that even predated the presidency of Heydar Aliyev and it only stands to reason that this remains a major area of cooperation which both sides naturally seek to downplay. 4. The Azerbaijani authorities assiduously protect Israeli interests in Baku. For example, the DCM of the Baku Embassy told Emboff that the GOAJ had noticeably improved local security at the Israeli Embassy when the most recent operations began in Gaza. When authorities got word of a planned demonstration on January 2, they dispatched buses to the place where the protesters were preparing to set off for the Embassy and arrested them on the spot. Police detained 25 of the 150 demonstrators rounded up, and 20 of them were sentenced to 10 or 15 days, detention. In sharp contrast, the GOAJ allows demonstrators to picket the Iranian Embassy, so long as the subject of the protest is the treatment of Azeris in Iran. In connection with the December 2 demonstration, the Israeli Embassy told us that they “never even saw” the demonstrators and made no requests before or after that anyone be held in custody. 5. Through its close relations with Israel, Azerbaijan gets a level of access to the quality weapon systems it needs to develop its army that it can not obtain from the U.S. and Europe due to various legal limitations, nor from its ex-Soviet suppliers, Belarus and Ukraine. Where other Western nations are reluctant to sell ground combat systems to the Azerbaijanis for fear of encouraging Azerbaijan to resort to war to regain NK and the occupied territories, Israel is free to make substantial arms sales and benefits greatly from deals with its well-heeled client. In September 2008 (again in a little-publicized affair) the GOAJ signed an extensive agreement with the Israeli Defense Ministry providing for three Israeli companies to provide mortars, ammunition, rocket artillery and radio equipment. The company “Soltam” got the contract to provide mortars and ammunition, “Tadiran Communications” will provide radio gear, and Israeli Military Industries will provide the rockets. IMI sells a range of rocket artillery and BAKU 00000020 002 OF 002 accessories ranging from upgrade kits for Soviet vintage BM-21 “Grad” 122mm systems, guidance packages for 122mm-300mm rockets and launch vehicles for up to 300mm rockets. It was not clear what exactly the Azerbaijanis bought, as the deal was simply described as being worth “hundreds of millions of dollars”. Azerbaijan already operates IMI’s 122mm “Lynx” multiple-launch rocket system, which it mounts on a KAMAZ 63502 heavy truck. 6. Recent USDAO reporting also indicates that the GOAJ through its Ministry of Defense Industries has created a joint venture with an Israeli entity to produce unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This venture will have 51 per cent GOAJ ownership and is distinct from the arrangements reported in para. 5 above. 7. Israeli contacts tell us that President Aliyev aptly described the bilateral relationship as “an iceberg; nine-tenths of it is below the surface” during the May 2008 visit of Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon. The sentiment is accurate because Baku balances its cordial relations with the Jewish state with its perceived responsibilities in to the OIC. Therefore Azerbaijan does not maintain an embassy in Israel, it dutifully (although weakly) criticizes Israeli military operations in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, and in international organizations supports the OIC line and avoids any chance of angering Iran. When Emboff delivered demarches on the UNGA Israel resolutions recently (Reftel A), our MFA contact explained that Azerbaijan would follow the OIC line and that there was “an understanding” with Israel about Azerbaijan’s voting behavior. Our Israeli contacts do not use the same word but acknowledge that they do not attempt to pressure Azerbaijan on these questions. The relationship also affects U.S. policy insofar as Azerbaijan tries, often successfully, to convince the U.S. pro-Israel lobby to advocate on its behalf. 8. The relationship does have its limits; it does not translate into any preferential treatment for Israeli investors or capital in Azerbaijan (Note: this hardly sets Israel apart among countries whose citizens invest here. End note.) With some humor, the Israeli DCM told us that Israeli businessmen expressed to her that they prefer corruption in Kazakhstan to that of Azerbaijan because in Kazakhstan one can expect to pay exorbitant “fees” to do business but those are generally collected at once, up front, whereas in Azerbaijan the demands for bribes never cease. 9. Israel’s relations with Azerbaijan are based strongly on pragmatism and a keen appreciation of priorities. Israel’s main goal is to preserve Azerbaijan as an ally against Iran, a platform for reconnaissance of that country and as a market for military hardware. In order to ensure those goals, the Israelis have keenly attuned themselves to the GOAJ’s needs as an OIC member and a state like Israel wedged between large, powerful and unfriendly neighbors. They forgo the option of pressuring the GOAJ on secondary issues to secure the primary ones. It is apparent to us that for now both sides are well satisfied with the bilateral state of affairs. End of the cable. Meanwhile, in another cable, published earlier by WikiLeaks, the U.S. diplomat Donald Lu gives a very unflattering characterization of the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The American diplomat said that Aliyev’s bellicose rhetoric, threatening to use force to solve the Karabakh issue is no more than a bluff, and Aliyev does not even think about regaining control over Karabakh by military means. Donald Lu wrote: “Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev utilizes distinctly different approaches to foreign and domestic policies”, said in the cable. He typically devises the former with pragmatism, restraint and a helpful bias toward integration with the West, yet at home his policies have become increasingly authoritarian and hostile to diversity of political views. This divergence of approaches, combined with his father’s continuing omnipresence, has led some observers to compare the Aliyevs with the fictional “Corleones” of Godfather fame, with the current president described alternately as a mix of “Michael” and “Sonny”,” said the cable. The cable indicates that Ilham Aliyev’s father, Heydar, can be called Vito Corleone of Azerbaijan. It is noted that the inner circle of the Azerbaijani president consists of the people of his father, and its composition has changed very little over the years, not counting a few “reformers”. The Prime Minister position is largely ceremonial and weak. Because of family connections, dynastic succession, the strong arming of the opposition and the creation of an elaborate patronage/protection network, the Aliyev Administration has developed an “organized crime” image in some quarters, leading some analysts to see Ilham Aliyev at times in a mafia-like role. Thus, it is noted that Ilham Aliyev inherited from his father a clever, realistic foreign policy. He encourages involvement with NATO and Euro-Atlantic security and political structures and supports a policy of westward transit of Azerbaijani oil and gas through non-Russian channels. For all his bluster about Azerbaijan’s legal right to liberate the Armenian-occupied territories by force, Aliyev has worked constructively on the Minsk Group-proposed Basic Principles and developed a reportedly good rapport with Armenian President Sargsian – in contrast to the much more confrontational relationship between the countries’ foreign ministers, the cable says. Even as Aliyev regards with horror the prospect of Turkey-Armenia rapprochement ahead of Nagorno-Karabakh resolution, the President has instructed SOCAR to continue gas transit and supply talks with Turkey, and no one in Baku has dared to consider a cut in oil exports through the BTC pipeline. The gas transit talks are a hardball affair to be sure, but Aliyev surely recognizes that Azerbaijan cannot really afford a total rupture with Turkey and certainly is not going to go so far as to foreclose on options out of pique while the Turkey-Armenia question remains open. Aliyev’s domestic policies, however, are another matter. As Aliyev perceives a challenge to his authority or affronts to his family dignity, even minor ones, he and his inner circle are apt to react (or overreact), much to the detriment of the country’s democratic development and movement toward Western alliances. The example of this is retaliation against the Azerbaijani bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, as well as rescinding licenses for foreign broadcasters. Thus, it is noted that his father, Heydar would never have allowed himself to be goaded into ridiculous reactions. This dissonance between foreign and domestic policies can be explained by the fact that Aliyev does not feel safe and relies on advisers of old-line Soviet-style political figures carried forward from his father’s administration, such as Presidential Chief of Staff Ramiz Mehdiyev. It is clear that Azerbaijan’s future development would better suit the United States policy goals if Aliyev pursued his domestic policies in a manner that resembled his foreign policy methods, however imperfect they may be, Donald Lu concludes. Department of Monitoring


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