JERUSALEM, Israel – Azerbaijan's parliament voted Friday to open an embassy in Israel, the first majority Shi'ite Muslim country to take such a step. The two nations have been friendly for years, and Israel has posted an ambassador in Baku, the Azeri capital, for three decades. However, Azerbaijan's embassy will be located in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, the site of Israel's capital.
Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the parliament's decision. “Azerbaijan is an important partner of Israel and home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Muslim world," Lapid said.
Representatives from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also hailed the decision, calling it a "significant step in the warming of relations between the Jewish State and her neighbors and will directly connect one of the largest Jewish communities in the Muslim world to the heart of the Jewish homeland.”
The Conference of Presidents' statement continued, "This agreement and others signal the critical importance of regional stability and send a firm message to bad actors like Iran who continue to promote violence and sponsor terrorism,” they added.
The reference to Iran highlights a possible strengthening of defense ties between Israel and Azerbaijan. In October, Defense Minister Benny Gantz paid an official visit to Baku, meeting with the president and defense minister. Azerbaijan has a history of tensions with its southern neighbor, Iran, although the two countries are both majority Shi'ite Muslim. Tehran has accused Azerbaijan of fomenting rebellion against the Mullah's regime among the ethnic Azeris in Iran.
Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Azerbaijan 6 years ago, solidifying defense ties with leaders there. Trade in defense and energy are two key elements of the relationship, with Israel providing armaments to Azerbaijan and the oil-rich Azeris supplying energy to Israel.