How Turkey, Israel and Pakistan ended up backing Azerbaijan

How rivals Turkey, Israel and Pakistan ended up siding with Azerbaijan
6 min read
07 October, 2020
Analysis: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has produced an unlikely alignment of traditionally hostile regional actors.
The South Caucasus region previously experienced flare-ups of violence in 2014 and 2016. [Getty]
Having clashed once again over decades-old claims in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan are on the brink of war. 

The South Caucasus region had previously experienced flare-ups of violence in 2014 and 2016, with the last having been in July this year. 

Various countries are embroiled in the latest escalation, with Russia, Iran and India more inclined towards Armenia, while Turkey, Israel and Pakistan are siding with Azerbaijan

Announcing support for Baku as soon as hostilities broke out, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to continue the struggle until the end of the Karabakh occupation, declaring that "Turkey stands with and will continue to stand with friendly and brotherly Azerbaijan with all our means and all our heart."

Following Ankara's stance on the matter, Pakistan's foreign ministry also declared support for Azerbaijan. Notably, having taken Baku's side during and after the last war over Nagorno-Karabakh with Yerevan, Islamabad has never recognised the state of Armenia.

Meanwhile, Israel has positioned itself on the side of Azerbaijan, even though it maintains diplomatic relations with Armenia. With a long track record of lucrative arms sales to Baku, Tel Aviv has closer ties with Azerbaijan in comparison to Armenia, which buys its weapons from Russia and is seen as close to Iran.

Various countries are embroiled in the latest escalation, with Russia, Iran and India more inclined towards Armenia, while Turkey, Israel and Pakistan are siding with Azerbaijan

Interestingly, though Ankara and Islamabad have close relations, they have distant or no ties with Tel Aviv. Pakistan has not recognised Israel because of the Palestinian question and there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries.

According to experts, Pakistan could be one of the few countries besides Iran that may never recognise Israel, therefore any joint efforts to help Azerbaijan are improbable.

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On the whole, relations between Israel and Turkey have also remained tense. "Despite very robust economic relations between the two countries, political relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained over the Palestinian issue," Professor Michael Tanchum, Senior Fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), told The New Arab.

Where Azerbaijan is concerned, he says that, "For Turkey and Israel, there is a large overlap of strategic interests. Of course, Turks in Turkey think of the Azeri Turks as part of one large Turkic nation. It is common to hear in both countries 'one nation, two states.' Israel and Azerbaijan have had a deep and long-standing partnership since the 1990s." 

However, Ankara, Tel Aviv and Islamabad all receive significant energy supplies from Azerbaijan and if the conflict between Baku and Yerevan becomes prolonged it could affect the energy security of all three countries. 

Most of Baku's main export pipelines are located around 10 miles from the Armenian border. And what makes the last spat in July more significant is that clashes took place in the southern Tovuz region where most of the critical energy infrastructure is located, with an energy route running along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. It was quite unusual, as the actual disputed territory of Karabakh is in the north and a good 300 kilometres away. 

Ankara, Tel Aviv and Islamabad all receive significant energy supplies from Azerbaijan

Armenia had never attacked energy lines during previous escalations, even though the dispute has continued for almost 30 years. Even in the clashes taking place this September, power plants and civil infrastructure have been targeted.

Any extended war could threaten the safety of the important Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline and the Southern Gas Corridor, which are buried two meters below the ground. Notably, violence has flared up again just weeks before Baku was due to start piping gas to the European Union (EU) and it has the potential to harm the Azerbaijani economy.

In Israel's case, Azerbaijan supplies nearly 40 percent of its oil needs and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is used for this export. Even though there are three crude oil export pipelines, the pipeline supplying Tel Aviv is the most important as it handles 80 percent of Azeri oil exports with a capacity of 1.2 million barrels a day.

Read more: How the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict could spiral into a proxy war

Meanwhile, a direct gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey is also planned to supply cheaper gas. Nowadays, Baku's gas exports to Turkey have increased and are taking up a large share of what was previously provided by Russia.

In addition, Azerbaijan has won tenders to supply gas and diesel to Pakistan State Oil. In 2017, an Inter-Governmental Agreement was signed with SOCAR, Azerbaijan's state oil company, for the import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and long-term supply agreements are also being discussed.

Exporting around 700,000 barrels of oil and approximately 780 million cubic feet of gas daily, Azerbaijan is a major oil and gas supplier to many countries and the safety of various oil and natural gas pipeline routes crossing into Europe from the Caucasus are at high risk. 

Israel and Azerbaijan have had a deep and long-standing partnership since the 1990s

Recently, the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has called on global powers to stop Turkey from getting involved, saying that, "We are on the brink of a full-scale war in the South Caucasus."

In the latest clashes, Azerbaijan has used drones supplied by Israel against Armenian forces and rendered Yerevan's anti-aircraft umbrella ineffective. It is with this behind the scenes help from Turkey and Israel that Azerbaijan has achieved air superiority. 

Read more: Armenia and Azerbaijan: A decades-long
bloody rivalry

According to the conflict think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) , Israel has provided Baku with weapons worth $825 million between the years 2006 to 2019. In addition, it has also provided various defence technologies and its defence companies have trained Azerbaijani special forces.

There were some rumours that Pakistan has also helped Baku militarily, but Islamabad has refuted these reports. The US State Department has warned that the "participation in the escalating violence by external parties would be deeply unhelpful and only exacerbate regional tensions."

On the other side, Armenia has received backing from Russia which recently supplied it with S-300 ballistic missiles and SU-30SM fighter jets. And even though India is trying to adopt a neutral stance, only recently it has inked a $40 million defence deal to supply four Swathi weapon-locating radars to Armenia.

Essentially, the matter lies more within Russia's sphere of influence. Armenia is in a NATO-like Russia-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) but Azerbaijan is not part of the group. 

Thousands of lives were lost during fighting in the 1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War until Russia brokered a deal, but a lot of land remained under the control of ethnic Armenians that declared it an autonomous state. 

Now as the clashes get worse, Yerevan has declared its readiness to accept Russian peacekeeping troops if they are deployed within an OSCE 'Minsk Group' framework. Formed in 1992, this group is co-chaired by Russia, France and the US to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but the status quo has only continued.

Sabena Siddiqui is a foreign affairs journalist, lawyer and geopolitical analyst specialising in modern China, the Belt and Road Initiative, Middle East and South Asia. 

Follow her on Twitter: @sabena_siddiqi