The first thing Armenia began to do shortly after it gained independence was establishing diplomatic relations with other states. This process received broad political resonance and infused pride in our compatriots who had just regained independence, both in our motherland and in the Diaspora.
Among all that joyousness the fact that Armenia and Israel didn’t exchange embassies fell out of sight.
The Armenian side explained this with the unwillingness to “offend” friendly Iran and spoil relations with the Arab world.
This was one of the flaws, ill-measured steps of the Armenian diplomacy whose negative consequences surfaced instantly and can still be observed.
In diplomatic practice there can be no normal development of relations between countries without opening embassies. (Currently Israel is represented in Armenia by its Ambassador in Georgia, while Armenia is represented in Israel by our Ambassador in Egypt.)
Just like physics, vacuum can’t remain continuously empty in diplomacy. It was filled by our neighbours Georgia and Azerbaijan in no time. And this was indeed done quickly and effectively.
Official Tel-Aviv holds the opinion that Georgian-Israeli relations are developing “swiftly and in the right direction”, and “the 26-century-long friendship of the two nations will last for the coming centuries”. For Georgians Israel is a country of unprecedented success in all spheres; and it is the Georgian dream to see their country become “Caucasian Israel”.
Georgia has been advancing contact with Israel in various aspects, including military and technical cooperation. It receives from Israel drones and modern artillery systems, modernizes T-72 tanks, trains military staff.
Israel’s relations with Azerbaijan are much deeper, more multi-faceted and perspective. Azerbaijan is one of the few states of the Muslim world (besides Turkey, Egypt and Jordan) developing bilateral relations with Israel. The embassy of the latter is quite active in Baku, while it is in no haste to open its diplomatic mission in Tel-Aviv, justifying its decision by the fear of negative reaction of the Arab world and Iran. This is a diplomatic myth, nothing more than double standards. Merely the fact that Azerbaijan has deployed a signals intelligence system to control Iran’s nuclear program on its territory demonstrates to what extent Azerbaijan “loves” Muslims and how sincere its feelings are. Azerbaijan and Israel are linked through political, strategic, economic and cultural interests. Relations between Baku and Tel-Aviv weren’t severed even by the tension between Turkey and Israel in 2011. In line with Russia, Israel is another major supplier of modern arms to Azerbaijan. Several plants assembling Israeli drones and other types of modern armaments function here. According to Azerbaijani reports the military machinery implemented in the attacks at the Armenian side during the four-day war of 2016 was mainly of Israeli make.
During informal meetings the Israelis try to convince us that their relations with Azerbaijan are purely of economic, business character and have nothing to do with politics. Things are definitely otherwise. Azerbaijan and Israel are linked to each other by a number of political consideratons: a) clearly pro-Azerbaijani position of the Israeli state concerning the Karabakh conflict; b) torpedoing of the recognition process of the Armenian Genocide in the Knesset; c) attempts to drive a wedge between the Armenian and Jewish lobbies in the USA favouring the interests of Baku and Ankara; d) desire to establish durable relations with Trump administration via Israel.
As to Armenia, it should be noted that our relations with Israel have been developing in the opposite direction. There are no more or less tangible political or economic relations between us. (According to the data provided by the National Statistical Service of Armenia, trade turnover between the two countries in 2016 constituted only $8,525 million or 0.1% of the external trade turnover of Armenia.) Both parties seem to have done their best to alienate our states, to erect an invisible wall between them. At the government level, attitude towards Israel has been cool and passive, while the press periodically embellished the idea that Jews actively participated in the crime of 1915, that Israel doesn’t recognize the Genocide, that Jews “envy” Armenians and that there should be no relations with them at all as friendly Iran would be offended.
Israel pays us the same coin. Knesset has periodically rejected the resolution on recognition of the Genocide by majority of votes. Opponents of normalization of bilateral relations, and their number is quite large, cultivate the idea that “Armenia is a leader of anti-Semitism on the post-Soviet territory, that the attitude to Jews has always been bad there”. Mass media, namely influential “The Jerusalem Post”, demonstrate anti-Armenian position. Ears of Turks and Azerbaijanians peep out behind all this who work coordinately, in Israel as well as in the United States of America and other countries, against rapprochement of Israel and Armenia.
Given the level of bilateral interrelations, the wish for rapprochement with Armenia voiced in Israel could be viewed as a political surprise and a rather interesting turn.
Delegations at ministerial and parliamentary level, also public and political figures arrive in Yerevan. One of the recent visits deserves mentioning, the one to Yerevan and Stepanakert paid by Avigdor Eskin, which gave rise to hysteria in Baku. Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi signed a number of inter-state agreements with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Culture in Yerevan. He stated that his country “wants to develop friendly relations with Armenia”. In September the third forum of “Armenia-Israel” public organization was held in our country, and an academic conference was organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Armenian-Russian (Slavonic) University which was attended by representatives of the University of Tel-Aviv. Armenian Parliamentary delegation visited Israel in January. On the background of the anticipated development of bilateral relations, the hope that both countries will get involved in integration processes is cherished. It is probable that through Armenia Israel will join infrastructure projects of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEC), specifically the North-South corridor. An Armenian air company is negotiating with the Israel-Armenia Trade Chamber to open a logistic center in Gyumri.
Some experts both in Yerevan and Tel-Aviv are talking of a breakthrough and thaw in the Armenian-Israeli relations.
Refraining from the temptation to confirm or reject these emotional moods, let us try to understand the reasons for the current changes, their internal logic from the position of Israel and Armenia.
- Tel-Aviv’s “sudden” move to change its foreign policy vector concerning Armenia is conditioned by global geopolitical processes, situation and power balance in the region.
- Parallel to its multilateral contacts with Georgia and Azerbaijan and based on its far-reaching strategic interest, Israel intends to regulate its relations with Armenia, which prolapsed from its “diplomatic geography”.
- “The minor Middle East NATO”, created and led by the USA, should have been perceived by Tel-Aviv as an amicable alliance due to its anti-Iranian focus. However, this artificial formation inspires no confidence in Israel. That is exactly why Israeli diplomacy is looking for routes, is doing everything for Israel not to become a “sandwich” for two Muslim states – Saudi Arabia and Iran. Besides, Israel will seek normalization of relations with Armenia given it is a CSTO member and Russia’s only strategic ally in the South Caucasus. To some extent this step is considered to be able to provide security for Israel taking into account current turbulence across the region. Israel acknowledges that Armenia is much more preferable than Azerbaijan in easing tension with Iran. (During informal contacts Israeli politicians do not hide Tel-Aviv’s intentions and doubt reliability of Iran-Azerbaijan relations despite active contacts in economic and military spheres.)
- In case relations with Yerevan normalize, Israel will try to use Armenian Diaspora for its political and other aims.
- Development of relations with Israel is within our national interests and the need to enhance Armenian statehood. If these bilateral relations move forward, this will allow us to develop cooperation in a number of vital areas – science, high technologies, banking system, healthcare, agriculture, communications, trade, transport and others. Cooperation in military industry, which is at quite a high level in that country, isn’t excluded.
- Armenian-Israeli cooperation can develop in the format of multilateral diplomacy. Diaspora capacities of both countries could play a huge role here if state and public diplomacy, as well as soft power is implemented.
- It is possible that Armenian-Israeli cooperation might become necessary in the Kurdish issue and also in political and other processes in the Middle East region.
- Under global geopolitical transformations and in case of a favourable atmosphere Armenia can become a mediator between Israel and Iran, which is a part of Tel-Aviv’s strategic plans.
- In 2016 the military-political, economic and cultural union was formed between Israel, Greece and Cyprus (it has anti-Turkish direction) and is open for other states. We believe if Armenia joins this alliance, this could foster Armenia’s connection with the above mentioned countries, contribute to the enlargement of alternative external political opportunities and actions of Armenia.
- Normalization of bilateral relations will contribute to the maintenance and management of Armenian property and churches in Jerusalem, and also to enhancing their relations with Holy Etchmiadzin.