Gallant headed to Baku to meet Azerbaijan president as ties grow

Defense minister’s visit is latest in series of high-profile meetings with key ally on Iran’s northern border

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is slated to fly to Baku on Wednesday evening to meet Azerbaijan’s president and defense minister.

The two-day visit is the latest public expression of the rapidly expanding ties between the two countries. According to the Defense Ministry, it will focus on bolstering strategic ties in “diplomacy, security and technology.”

“This includes widening defense and industrial cooperation between the countries,” read a statement from the ministry.

In addition to President Ilham Aliyev and Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, Gallant will also meet State Border Service chief Elchin Guliyev and other senior defense officials. He will be taking his chief of staff, Shachar Katz; Military Secretary Guy Markizeno; and the director of the ministry’s Political-Military Bureau, Dror Shalom along with him.

Gallant’s visit comes two days after Baku announced it had arrested a 23-year-old Afghan national on suspicion of planning an attack on Israel’s embassy.

Israel is in the midst of a very public expansion of bilateral ties with Azerbaijan, a Shiite-majority country closely allied with Turkey that has seen its partnership with the Jewish state flourish.

President Isaac Herzog (L) reviews an honor guard in Baku alongside Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, May 30, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)

In March, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov opened Baku’s first-ever embassy in Israel.

President Isaac Herzog visited Azerbaijan in May, when he discussed the Iran threat and bilateral ties.

Israel is one of Azerbaijan’s leading arms suppliers. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel provided 69 percent of Baku’s major arms imports in 2016-2020, accounting for 17% of Jerusalem’s arms exports over that period.

Israel stepped up its weapons shipments to Azerbaijan during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan emerged victorious in that six-week war with Armenia, which claimed the lives of more than 6,000 soldiers and resulted in Baku regaining control over disputed territories.

It is an open secret that two of the pillars of the relationship are Azerbaijan’s location on Iran’s northern border and the fact that Israel buys over 30 percent of its oil from Baku.

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