September 9, 2022 | The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst

Israel’s Role in the Second Armenia-Azerbaijan War and Its Implications for the Future

September 9, 2022 | The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst

Israel’s Role in the Second Armenia-Azerbaijan War and Its Implications for the Future

Excerpt

For a quarter of a century, Israel and Azerbaijan have maintained deep strategic cooperation that touches on national security issues of the highest importance to both sides. The defense relationship goes far beyond arms sales and technology transfer, including cooperation on the establishment of Azerbaijan’s indigenous defense industry. In the 2020 war, Azerbaijan demonstrated an innovative use of Israeli arms and the integration of Turkish and Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as a novel uses of UAVs. The war set the stage the return of open cooperation between Turkey and Israel and renewal of exchange of ambassadors. Moreover, Israel’s cooperation with Azerbaijan has endowed it with “soft power” among ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran, who form one-third of the Islamic Republic’s population.

The Second Armenia-Azerbaijan War, which took place over 44 days in fall 2020, shed light on the actual military alignments involving the states of the South Caucasus region. While the three South Caucasus states exchange rhetorical niceties with the regional and global powers active in the region and cooperate in various economic and diplomatic organizations, in reality there are clear military alignments that differ greatly from this.

This was aptly illustrated in several ways during the war: Iran was willing to put forces in the war zone to support Armenia, and also both collected and shared with Armenia intelligence on Azerbaijan’s troop movements and allowed its territory to serve as the main conduit of Russian arms to Armenia; Russia resupplied arms and other supplies to Armenia and as Moscow controls Armenia’s airspace and air defense, allowed the firing of ballistic missiles on civilian targets in multiple locations in Azerbaijan, including the capital Baku; Turkey’s defense cooperation with Azerbaijan developed over the years into a full-fledged military alliance, with Ankara contributing to the emergence of Azerbaijan’s highly capable military force. In addition, Azerbaijan’s military proficiency during the war revealed the results of the long-term strategic cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan and, indeed, the strategic nature of defense cooperation between the two states.1

This essay will examine Israel’s role in the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war and the resulting strategic implications. The Republic of Azerbaijan and the State of Israel have enjoyed extensive ties and cooperation since the restoration of Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991 and strategic cooperation since the mid-1990s. This partnership played a role in Azerbaijan’s success in the 2020 Second Armenia-Azerbaijan War.

The cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan in the military sphere extends beyond arms sales. Rather, Israeli security and military cooperation has played a significant role in the building of Azerbaijan’s military capabilities and the establishment in Azerbaijan of a home-grown defense industry. Israeli specialists have also engaged in the training of Azerbaijani military experts on the operation of various armaments, the development of organizational methods and formulation of military doctrine. In the 2020 war, Azerbaijan demonstrated an innovative use of Israeli arms and the integration of Turkish and Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as a novel use of UAVs, which included carrying out multiple tasks and their integration with other armaments in the battlefield.

Military planners and strategists worldwide continue to study this battlefield integration exhibited in the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war as well as the war in general, which has been viewed as an important case study in modern warfare. In addition, the success of the Turkish and Israeli armaments and their battlefield integration in the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan War has led to increased commercial interest globally in both the Turkish and Israeli defense industries. The war also set the stage for important political developments, including the return of open cooperation between Turkey and Israel and renewal of exchange of ambassadors, announced on August 17, 2022. Moreover, Israel’s cooperation with Azerbaijan has endowed it with “soft power” among ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran, who form one-third of the Islamic Republic’s population. Many ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran expressed support for Azerbaijan during the war and thus appreciated Israel’s contribution to Azerbaijan’s war effort.2

Dr. Brenda Shaffer is a faculty member of the US Naval Postgraduate School. She also is a senior advisor for energy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter @ProfBShaffer. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

  1. Earlier examinations of this topic appeared in “Israel’s Role in the Second Armenia-Azerbaijan War,” in Turan Gafarli and Michael Arnold (eds.), The Karabakh Gambit: Responsibility for the future Istanbul: TRT World Research Centre, 2021; and in Hebrew עידן אבינעםוברנדה שפר, ״תפקידה של ישראל במלחמת אזרבייג׳אן- ארמניה השנייה ,הסדרה הגאוסטרטגית, אוניברסיטת 2022 פברואר, חיפה) https://ch-strategy.hevra.haifa.ac.il/index.php/israel-s-role-in-the-second-armenian-azerbaijan-war)
  2. For more on the political activity of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran, including their mobilization in favor of Azerbaijan during the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan War, see Brenda Shaffer, Iran is more than Persia: Ethnic Politics in Iran, Washington, DC: Foundation for Defense of Democracy, April 2021. (https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2021/04/28/iran-is-more-than-persia/)
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Issues:

Energy Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Turkey