By wooing Tel Aviv and Washington, Aliyev plays into Armenia’s hands

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Mahmoud Ahmed Shaikh

Jumada' al-Ula' 14, 1418 1997-09-16


by Mahmoud Ahmed Shaikh (World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 14, Jumada' al-Ula', 1418)

The Azerbaijani president, Haydar Aliyev, has called for closer ties between his country and both Israel and the US. The move, which follows the conclusion of a ‘historic’ defence and friendship treaty between Russia and Armenia, will not only fail to secure US and Zionist support for Baku’s war effort but may also lead to Azerbaijan’s isolation in the Muslim world - a tactical, perhaps strategic, disaster of Aliyev’s own making.

The Azerbaijani leader called for stronger links with Washington in ‘politics, security, economic, trade and other spheres’ on September 3. Aliyev, who visited America in August to promote investment, ordered government and financial institutions to report back quarterly on the relationship.

His call to strengthen ties with Tel Aviv came on August 29, when he received Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stopped in Baku for talks on his way back from official visits to China, Japan and South Korea. Aliyev was so keen to please the Israelis that he conducted the four-hour talks himself instead of asigning the task to his prime minister, as protocol would suggest.

The president said at the end of the talks that he and the Israeli leader had discussed ‘regional and security issues’ but did not give any details. However, he praised the quality of Israeli technology, adding that Baku might decide to ‘rely on it’, and strongly called for ‘raising relations between the two to a higher level.’

Netanyahu in his turn expressed Israel’s interest in buying Azeri oil, and in co-operating with Baku in ‘regional and international matters.’ The two countries ‘can promote each other’s interest,’ while constructive engagement ‘in the regional and international fields could be beneficial to both,’ he said.

The London-based Al-Hayat daily quoted a ‘well-informed Azeri source’ as saying that, currently, the two countries are ‘bound together by a common denominator ‘namely’ - their ‘hostile stance towards Iran. Baku believes that Tehran sides with Armenia in the conflict over Karabakh, and resents Iranian backing for the Russian line that the Caspian Sea is a lake and that under international law no single country can exploit its resources unilaterally,’ the source was quoted as adding.

Latest estimates of Caspian oil reserves are put at 200 billion barrels, making the field the world’s largest after the Middle East, and establishing the region as a vital energy source for the next century. The bulk of this oil is produced by the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenstan. Russia has lost control of the oil after the collapse of the Soviet Union, making its money through transporting it, as well as gas, through pipelines across its territory.

But the pipeline which transports Azerbaijani oil to Russia passes through Ichkeria (Chechenya) and will remain out of action as long as the Chechens and Russians are at loggerheads (Ichkeria will not settle for less than full independence and is using the pipelines as a strong lever in the negotiations with Moscow.

Meanwhile, the US companies engaged in extracting Azerbaijani oil want to export early and are, therefore, keen to find alternative routes. The shortest route for a pipeline and hence the cheapest to construct, is through Iran but the US is against it.

The Russians, who are opposed to any route not passing through their territory, are piling the pressure on Baku. A day before Netanyahu’s visit to Baku, the Russian and Armenian presidents signed what they called a ‘historic’ defence and friendship treaty, which calls for mutual assistance in the face of a military threat to either.

The treaty provides for cooperation in the ‘political, economic, defence, scientific and other fields,’ the Itar-Tass news agency reported on August 29. Under the 25-year pact, which is renewable for 10-year terms, both Moscow and Yerevan undertake to use their joint military resources to expell any perceived military threat to either of them.

To that end, Moscow and Yerevan plan to develop their cooperation in communications, information and energy sector. This goes well beyond the initial Russian support for Yerevan in its war with Azerbaijan.

The relations Aliyev seeks to establish with Israel and the US are not as strategic as those created by the friendship treaty. All the Azerbaijani president can hope for, and seeks, is to have the US congressional sanctions imposed on Baku because of its economic blockade on Armenia lifted. (Such is the arrogance of congress that it expects Azerbaijan to extend its energy resources to an enemy occupying one-fifth of its territory).

No-one can explain why Aliyev wants US aid when his country is so rich and the US government and companies are so eager to lay their hands on its energy resources; or why he is courting Israel, which desperately needs Azerbaijani economic and political cooperation. Clearly, all he has to do to sit pretty, wait to be wooed and demand a price.

Obviously, that price will not be a re-alignment of US and Israeli political and military positions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Both Washington and Tel Aviv are strategic friends of Yerevan. Apart from their natural inclination to back a Christian side against a Muslim one, there are strong political reasons why they will not back Baku against Yerevan.

The Armenian lobby in the US is the second most powerful, after the Jewish one. That is partly why Armenia receives the second largest per capita US aid, after Israel. The two lobbies are also natural allies, and closely co-operate.

By going all out courting Washington and Tel Aviv, Aliyev destroys his country’s bargaining power - running the risk of replicating the Middle East situation, where the US plunders Arab oil resources but at the same time protects their number-one enemy.

Muslimedia - September 16-30, 1997

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