Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon began a two-day visit to Azerbaijan on Wednesday aiming to bolster burgeoning ties with its strategic and defense trade partner that conveniently borders northeast Iran.
Ya’alon’s visit, the first by an Israeli MoD chief in 22 years of diplomatic relations between the Jewish and Muslim states, comes less than a month after Iran claimed to have shot down an Israeli-made UAV that reportedly took off from Azerbaijan.
It also coincides with ADEX-2014, the first international arms exhibition hosted by Baku, where 16 Israeli firms and MoD export officials will market a full spectrum of air, sea, land and space systems.
At a Wednesday meeting with Azerbaijan President llham Aliyev, Ya’alon characterized bilateral ties as “fruitful,” and noted that the two countries were engaged in broad-based strategic cooperation.
“I’m happy to be hosted here in the first historic visit by an Israeli defense minister to Azerbaijan,” Ya’alon said. “We have bilateral strategic relations and cooperation in different areas.”
With nearly $4 billion in arms deals over the past three years and commitments by Baku’s authoritarian government to grow its defense industrial base, Azerbaijan has rapidly risen to the top ranks of Israeli export markets.
Since 2012, Baku has purchased at least $1.6 billion worth of UAVs, radars and air defense missiles from state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and is talking about buying or leasing IAI-produced spy satellites.