Israel has been a key supplier of powerful weapons to Azerbaijan, helping it to recapture the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian separatists, according to officials and experts.
In the weeks before Azerbaijan launched its 24-hour assault on September 19, Azerbaijani military cargo planes repeatedly flew between a southern Israeli airbase and an airfield near Nagorno-Karabakh, according to flight tracking data and Armenian diplomats.
The flights raised alarm in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, which has long been wary of the strategic alliance between Israel and Azerbaijan. Armenia’s ambassador to Israel, Arman Akopian, said he expressed his concern to Israeli politicians and lawmakers over the weapons shipments.
“For us, it is a major concern that Israeli weapons have been firing at our people,” Akopian said “I don’t see why Israel should not be in the position to express at least some concern about the fate of people being expelled from their homeland,” he added.
Azerbaijan’s September blitz involved heavy artillery, rocket launchers and drones – largely supplied by Israel and Turkey, according to experts. The offensive killed over 200 Armenians and some 200 Azerbaijani troops, according to officials. It also forced over 100,000 ethnic Armenians – more than 80 percent of the enclave’s residents – to flee in the last two weeks. Azerbaijan has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region.
Israel’s arms sales to Azerbaijan are driven by its national interests in the restive region south of the Caucasus Mountains. Azerbaijan is one of Israel’s main oil suppliers and a potential ally against Iran, which borders both countries and supports Armenia.
Israel’s role in the conflict has also drawn criticism from some human rights groups and activists, who accuse it of fueling violence and violating international law. A petition signed by over 200 Israeli academics and cultural figures called on the government to stop arming Azerbaijan and recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state.
The petition said that Israel’s weapons sales to Azerbaijan are “a stain on the moral image of the State of Israel and the Jewish people” and that they contradict Israel’s historical support for national liberation movements.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war in the early 1990s that killed an estimated 30,000 people. A fragile cease-fire was reached in 1994, but sporadic clashes have erupted over the years.
The latest fighting ended on October 3, when Armenia agreed to withdraw from most of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas in exchange for Russian peacekeepers and humanitarian aid. The deal was brokered by Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and considers it a strategic partner.
The agreement was hailed as a triumph by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who said it restored his country’s territorial integrity. But it sparked protests and anger in Armenia, where many saw it as a humiliating defeat and a betrayal by their government.