Israel-Azerbaijan Relationship Relies on Unholy Trinity of Oil, Arms & Intelligence

By Harut Sassounian

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published on April 11 a revealing article about the extensive high-level links between Azerbaijan and Israel, titled: “How Strategic Relations with Azerbaijan Became the Business of the Lieberman Family.” The article was written by investigative reporter Gur Megiddo.

Avigdor Lieberman was a high-ranking Israeli government official who made multiple trips to Baku, more than any other Israeli politician, meeting each time with Pres. Ilham Aliyev and other high-ranking Azeri leaders. He served twice as Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, and became successively minister at six different ministries: National Infrastructure, Transportation, Strategic Affairs, Foreign Affairs (twice), Defense, and Finance.

Lieberman was not the only Israeli official who traveled to Azerbaijan. Israel’s defense ministers Benny Gantz and Yoav Gallant also visited Baku, in addition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016 and President Isaac Herzog in 2023.

Megiddo stated that “the Israel-Azerbaijan relationship relies on an unholy trinity of oil, arms and intelligence. Israel buys oil from Azerbaijan (about half of Israel’s crude oil originates there), and sells it advanced military equipment. In return, Azerbaijan reportedly gives it access to its land and sea border with Israel’s number one rival: Iran.”

Azerbaijan was victorious in the Artsakh wars of 2020 and 2023, “thanks in no small part to game-changing weaponry supplied by Israel,” including the Israeli Hermes and Harop drones, and other sophisticated weapons bought for billions of dollars. Azerbaijan purchased some of these drones while Lieberman was Defense Minister.”

During Lieberman’s visit to Baku in 2012, he was asked about a Foreign Policy magazine article which quoted a senior U.S. government official as saying that: “the Israelis have bought an airfield, and the airfield is called Azerbaijan. The names of several former Soviet air force bases were mentioned that, according to the magazine’s sources, were or would be placed at Israel’s disposal in anticipation of a possible airstrike” on Iran. Lieberman called the story “science fiction” that has “no connection to reality.” However, The Times of London reported that the “Israeli espionage agency Mossad has a base in Azerbaijan.”

“By any standard, Azerbaijan is a dictatorship” ranked 130th out of 167 countries by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2023. A delegation of four Israeli Knesset members led by Lieberman went to Azerbaijan ostensibly to oversee the presidential elections. They dismissed the reports of irregularities in the elections which Aliyev had won with a whopping 85%. They falsely described Azerbaijan as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Lieberman called Aliyev’s victory “a good lesson for some forces who, unjustly, criticize Azerbaijan.”

When Israeli-Russian blogger Aleksander Lapshin was arrested and jailed in Baku for visiting Artsakh, his family asked then-Defense Minister Lieberman to intervene, but he did not lift a finger, even after Lapshin was attacked by the prison security personnel, trying to kill him. Lapshin believes that the Russians ultimately helped secure his release.

Megiddo reported that Lieberman’s two sons — Amos and Kobi — have a “deep business relationship” with Azerbaijan’s government. “The Lieberman brothers, it turns out, spend a lot of time in Baku, where they are considered intermediaries who know how to open doors to the government. In recent years, Lieberman’s sons have marketed a number of Israeli high-tech products to the government of Azerbaijan: a cyberoffense product made by the cybersecurity company Candiru; a big data system for improving tax collection by another cybersecurity firm, Rayzone; and water desalination technologies by the Israeli company IDE. The potential commissions from brokering these three ventures alone could reach millions of dollars. Additionally, until recently, the Lieberman brothers represented Azerbaijan Airlines (the national flag carrier controlled by the state) in Israel.”

Several Israeli firms like Pegasus and Candiru sold spyware to Azerbaijan to hack the phones of the regime’s opponents. Today, 18 Azeri journalists are in jail. The Candiru sale was mediated by Lieberman’s two sons in exchange for a commission, “estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars.” From a deal with cyberfirm Rayzone, they earned “a commission of about $200,000,” according to ‘TheMarker,’ published by Haaretz. Lieberman’s office stated that “he is not involved in his children’s businesses.”

Lieberman’s children also represented IDE Technologies which is planning on building a large water desalination facility in Azerbaijan. This is “a project whose cost may reach hundreds of millions of dollars — and the commission for the Lieberman brothers would presumably rise accordingly,” Megiddo wrote.

Megiddo wondered: “Do you think the two sons would have attained such significant status with the Azerbaijan government if not for their family connection?” A businessman was quoted as saying: “I can say about the Azerbaijanis that they’re the kind of people who know how to say thank you. If you do good things for them and they appreciate you — they know how to say thanks, both in words and deeds.”

Megiddo concluded: “there’s probably no one within the Israeli establishment who would dispute the many benefits Israel derives from its ugly but perhaps vital relationship with Azerbaijan. But there is no contradiction between these two statements: the warm relations with the morally dubious rule of President Ilham Aliyev can be part of an Israeli national security strategy, and at the same time also part of the Lieberman family’s business strategy.”

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