The primary motivation in selling arms to other countries is indeed that it is very lucrative business. The profit margin is incredibly high. There is never much transparency in arms deals and when the buyer and seller are both notoriously corrupt parties, there is much joy on both sides when a deal is stuck. As it is certain to be in both Tel Aviv and Baku, which have just signed a 1.6 billion dollar arms deal.
But big arms deals also highlight the political and strategic vectors of regional politics. In the present case between Israel and Azerbaijan, it is particularly so. In fact, several vectors of regional politics overlap.
Look at it from Israel’s point of view. It is obviously consolidating its toehold in a highly strategic region that overlooks the Caucasus, the Caspian, Russia, Turkey and Iran. In these unpredictable times when israel feels badly isolated in its region, it is forging new friendships in the vicinity of the region.
Of course, all three regional powers — Russia, Turkey and Iran — will resent Israel’s ‘gatecrashing’ into a turf they were confident belonged to them. Russia will have a harder time getting Baku and Yerevan to talk peace, as Armenians will be edgy that with the big inflow of petrodollars, Azerbaijan is on a military build-up and that israelis have set up shop in the region.
The Armenians will have expectations from Russia to restore some degree of military balance so long as the Nagorno-Karabakh volcano remains unpredictable. This is certainly a digression Moscow would have liked to avoid when so many bush fires are burning in Russia’s borderlands.
On the other hand, Israel is also turning the table on Russia, which is arming and supporting Syria and Iran. Israel already poses headaches for Russia by arming Georgia. Conceivably, Washington is quietly pleased that its is Russia is taking some flak in its backyard. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia are on good terms with Washington. For Russia, Armenia also happens to be a member country of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
As regards Tehran’s ties with Baku, they are highly complicated and never free of friction. (Which explains the strong links between Iran and Armenia.) To compound the bilateral relationship, there is also an ethnic Azeri population in Iran. Israel’s presence just across the border with Azerbaijan has security implications for Tehran. The proposed arms deal includes supply of Israeli drones to Azerbaijan.
Israel has traditional links with the Kurdish militants. Tehran will need to scan one more slice of the blue skies through which Israeli aircraft can sneak into its airspace and approach ‘nuclear targets’ in Iran.
Funnily, Israel has also punctured Turkey’s vanities as a regional power by moving into bed with Baku. Ankara always fancied Baku to be its ‘little brother’. And it isn’t exactly funny when the little brother becomes a pal of Turkey’s newest adversary — Israel — while Turkey itself is actively befriending Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood as a model islamic democracy that the Arab world can’t do without.
Turkey too will be nervous about the Israel-supplied Azeri drones hovering above the eastern Kurdish regions. Ankara has been blocking progress in the dalliance between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Israel. And Israel circles around Turkey and picks up its best ally in the Caspian as its partner.
The Azeris have never been easy customers for the Turks and now their capacity to drive a bargain increases. This comes at a time when Ankara’s pretensions of being the leader of the Turkic world are facing a setback. Tashkent recently locked up the Turkish businessmen operating in Uzbekistan and confiscated their business, alleging they are Islamists. Turkey needs Azeri friendship to keep the Turkic flag flying in the Central Asian region. Turkey’s ties with Armenia remain frozen, too, but that’s a backlog of Ottoman history.
Ankara is already agitated that Israel, Greece and Cyprus are ganging up with Big Oil to corner the vast gas and gas deposits in Eastern Mediterranean. There is nervousness in Ankara that Cyprus and Greece have drawn close to Israel. Turkey is brooding over unconfirmed reports that Israel may secure a military base in Cyprus.
Over and above, it’s oil, Stupid. The arms deal means Israel enjoys access to the Azeri decision-making echelons. And one big decision that Baku makes is as regards the customers for its oil — and more importantly, how it spends all that fabulous income derived from selling oil.
In a manner of speaking, this is one ’strategic partnership’ that was made in the heavens. Azerbaijan and Israel are grandmasters in sleaze. Immense possibilities arise when Israeli businessmen tuck into Azerbaijan’s petrodollar recycling. The Swiss bankers must be laughing.