The Facebook photo showing a hand holding an Azerbaijani passport came with a simple message: “I stand with Israel.” For a majority Shi’a Muslim country, that may not be an expected position to take on the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Palestinians; a struggle that has left hundreds of civilians dead or displaced since July. But for many Azerbaijanis, the matter is a question of pragmatism.
“Israel supports Azerbaijan internationally and it is our strategic partner,” elaborated Araz Behbudov, a 25-year-old accountant from the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. “A strategic partnership comes before everything, and we should give it priority.”
Proof of that partnership lies in the numbers. Israel gets well over a third of its oil supplies from energy-rich Azerbaijan, and ranks as a top trade partner. Israel itself has become a critical arms supplier for the South-Caucasus country. In 2012, it agreed to sell $1.6-billion-worth of anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan.
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Shahla Sultanova is a freelance journalist focusing on Azerbaijan.