Dec 23, 2020 - World

Scoop: Azerbaijan seeks to mediate between Turkey and Israel

Aliyev (L) with Erdoğan in 2018. Photo: Adem Altan/AFP via Getty

Turkey and Israel both played key roles in Azerbaijan's recent victory over Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. Now, several weeks after the ceasefire, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev is trying to mend relations between his two allies, senior Israeli officials tell me.

The big picture: Drones and other weapons systems from both Turkey and Israel helped Azerbaijan gain military superiority over Armenia. But relations between Turkey and Israel have been frozen for most of the past decade.

Driving the news: Aliyev raised the Israel-Turkey tensions in a recent call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Israeli officials said.

  • Aliyev's advisers told their Israeli counterparts that Erdoğan responded positively to the idea of improving relations.
  • Erdoğan has a history of bellicose comments on Israel, but Aliyev's advisers claimed that he is not anti-Israel, but had been incited against Israel by aides who no longer advise him.
  • Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said on a recent call with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, that Azerbaijan thinks it is a good time for Israel and Turkey to mend fences.

What they're saying: “Aliyev and his senior advisers have communicated that they want to see both of their good friends — Turkey and Israel — getting back to normal relations and they are willing to help to make that happen," an Israeli official told me.

  • The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment for this story, as did Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser.

Flashback: Israeli-Turkish relations have been deteriorating since the 2008 Gaza war, and contacts were frozen almost entirely after the 2010 "Gaza Flotilla incident," in which Israeli commandos attacked activists who were attempting to breach an Israeli blockade to deliver aid to Gaza.

  • Then-President Barack Obama facilitated a trilateral phone call with Netanyahu and Erdoğan in 2013 to try to foster a reconciliation deal.
  • Those talks dragged on until 2016, and the eventual deal unraveled two years later when a new crisis emerged over the Temple Mount.

The latest: There have been several signs in recent months that Turkey wants to re-engage with Israel, in particular over its dispute with Greece and Cyprus over natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

  • But Israeli officials say they'll be very cautious, given their suspicions over Erdoğan’s true intentions.
  • In any case, Israel won't harm its relations with Greece and Cyprus in order to mend relations with Turkey.
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