Author: Namig Mayilov
Mr. Ambassador, unfortunately, our meeting takes place in those days when a small girl Zahra and her grandmother died in Karabakh because of the shelling of an Azerbaijani village by the Armenian military. Another woman is wounded, and this is not the first fact of the murder of children and women by Armenian military during the truce. Azerbaijan appealed to the world community to condemn and pacify Armenia. What is the reaction of the State of Israel to the events and appeals from Baku?
First of all, the news of the death of little Zahra and her grandmother shocked us. If it is impossible to avoid the war, then one must try to prevent the death of civilians. The death of children during hostilities is three times more unacceptable. Firstly, it is just a child. Secondly, she was so small that she did not realize what her nationality was. Thirdly, her most basic right is violated - the right to live.
Such incidents occur not only here. On August 22, 2014, as a result of the shelling, a three-year-old boy, Daniel Tegerman, was killed in Israel. Unfortunately, the Hamas organization does not make a distinction between the civilians and military. Yet another example of a brutal act is the murder of baby Shalhevet Fas, who was not even a year-old on March 26, 2001 when a sniper shot her father, and then the baby in the stroller.
Such crimes are unacceptable in any country of the world. I have already said that we should avoid deaths among civilians during military conflicts. The second point is the resolution of conflicts peacefully in order to avoid further deaths.
As for the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, based on Israeli experience, I would like to say that a peaceful solution to the conflict is the only and the most appropriate way of conflict resolution. We have signed two peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, which put an end to the violence.
I emphasize that we support the efforts of President Ilham Aliyev to achieve peace in a political way. We also support the efforts of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, because their proposals are something that can be acceptable to both sides. I also want to emphasize that we support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
I would like to draw your attention to the constant discontent of neighboring Armenia with the military cooperation of Azerbaijan with its partners, including Israel. This is understandable, since Armenia occupied Azerbaijani territories. Do you think the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict can deter military cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan?
Firstly, I would like to note that in such cases it is better not to make hypothetical assumptions. I want to note that Azerbaijan and Israel enjoy very good relations in various spheres, including the defense. These relations had existed even before the escalation of the conflict in last April.
I would also like to note what President Aliyev said eight months after the April events, on December 13, 2016. He stressed the importance and high level of relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. The president also named the indicators of our military cooperation.
("The cost of contracts signed by Azerbaijani and Israeli companies for the purchase of defense equipment is about $5 billion, or $4 billion 850 million to be more precise. A significant part of these contracts has already been implemented. We are still working in this direction and are very satisfied with the level of our cooperation," said President Ilham Aliyev at his press conference during the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Baku. R +)
What about the current level of the Azerbaijani-Israeli relations as a whole? What is the level of mutual trade turnover, investment? Do these indicators reflect the real potential of the parties?
Our potential for cooperation is not even close to being exhausted. Azerbaijan is one of the main suppliers of oil to Israel. In the non-oil sphere, the situation is also improving every year. I can quote the figures of the non-oil trade turnover since 2015. Then the turnover was as little as $132 million, while in 2016 it reached $260 million. But this is only a quarter of a billion. There is still a potential to increase it. Both countries realize this and certain work in this direction is already underway.
Azerbaijan stated the need for the development of agriculture in the country. Israel has a good potential for cooperation in this sphere of economy. We have developed new technologies, we have great knowledge in this area. It is especially noteworthy that the private sector in Israel has been actively developed. We are working on cooperation in the areas of cotton growing, cattle breeding, creation of irrigation systems in cotton fields, greenhouses and other areas that may also be of mutual interest to private companies. Cooperation is also possible in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, IT, communication and education.
As I have already noted, the role of the private sector in the development of relations between our countries is very important. But it is necessary to note the importance of interstate cooperation. An example of this is the visit of Benjamin Netanyahu to Azerbaijan. In addition to other important documents, our states signed an agreement on the establishment of a joint commission for intergovernmental cooperation.
The document was ratified by the parties and now we are working to hold the first meeting of the commission. Our goal is to identify the areas of the greatest interest for cooperation, to increase the volume of mutual trade and to develop cooperation in the economic sphere. Once we define the priority areas, the state will be able to create conditions for cooperation of the private sector.
Are there any specific projects and developments?
As I said, the treaty has been ratified recently. We are working to convene the first session. Therefore, it is difficult to name any definite plans for interaction. The agenda has not yet been developed, but all these sectors will be considered to create favorable conditions for private sector cooperation.
By the way, the embassy should have been conducting research of business conditions in Azerbaijan to provide relevant information to Israeli companies that are interested in cooperation. How do you assess the existing business climate, given that the Azerbaijani government is carrying out active reforms to improve the investment and business environment?
First of all, we are following the reforms in Azerbaijan, and we appreciate the work that the government is doing to improve the conditions for investments. They are really important in order to improve the standard of public living and the opportunities for the development of the state itself.
The role of the embassy is, inter alia, to provide information about the opportunities for investment in a particular country. This is what we are doing here trying to provide information on the investment opportunities in Israel. Unfortunately, there is no Azerbaijani embassy in Israel, which would regularly inform about the investment potential of Azerbaijan. Therefore, I am trying to provide this information in Israel.
Despite the absence of an embassy, we are trying to do everything possible to develop cooperation in the non-oil sector since Azerbaijan is of strategic interest to Israel.
Currently, we are trying to characterize the reforms that are being carried out in Azerbaijan, and when I visit different regions of Azerbaijan, I also try to visit industrial parks and enterprises to understand how they work.
Israeli companies show interest in Azerbaijan and try to enter the market. There is already a certain interaction in the spheres of health, agriculture and IT.
In other words, the business environment is not bad. At least we have a basis to work upon...
Firstly, I am not authorized to assess the situation. Secondly, this is a long process. Since the Azerbaijani government decided to speed up the reforms and develop the non-oil sector, certain work is under way. Unfortunately, sometimes things do not go as smoothly as we would like, but it is a long process. It is interesting to see the trends. I think that in the coming years the situation will improve.
Meanwhile, there are real opportunities for the development of cooperation in the oil and gas sector. I mean the possibility of connecting Israel to the Southern Gas Corridor for the export of Israeli natural gas from the Mediterranean shelf to Europe.
It is possible to indicate four different areas of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel in this area. First, it is the import of Azerbaijani oil by Israel. Secondly, diversification of gas supply routes to Europe. In this regard, it is important to underline the efforts taken to complete the TAP and TANAP projects as soon as possible. This is important both for ensuring both the energy security of Europe, and the income generation.
In 2009, Israel discovered offshore gas reserves estimated at 900 million cubic meters. The government decided to leave part of this volume in strategic reserves, and export 40-50% of forecasted volumes.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz participates in the energy conference in Turkey, which ends today (July 13, 2017, R +). He stressed that there were two opportunities for gas exports from Israel. One option is to build a gas pipeline to Turkey and from there deliver the gas to Europe via other pipelines. This can be TAP or another line. The second option is the delivery of gas supplies from Greece straight to Italy.
The first option was discussed at a conference between the Israeli and Turkish energy ministers. This year, the Turkish minister is expected to visit Israel to continue negotiations and consider the possibility of signing the agreement.
I have noted two areas of cooperation with Azerbaijan in the oil and gas sector. The third point may be the exploitation of Israeli fields. In 2016, the Israeli government announced a tender for the operation of 24 out of 69 blocks in the offshore zone. The tender is open until mid-November 2017. A large number of companies have already shown interest. I would like to see Azerbaijani companies among them.
The fourth area is cooperation in the spheres that are relevant to the oil and gas sector. This can be monitoring and support, ensuring oil and gas production, attracting Israeli expertise to the oil and gas sector in Azerbaijan.
I noted four areas of cooperation. But the fifth area is also possible. Israel is very interested in borrowing many years of Azerbaijani experience in the oil and gas sector. This can be both at the academic level and at the level of management of future incomes. Cooperation with SOFAR, the Oil Academy and SOCAR is possible. All these three representatives of the oil and gas sector have a very large experience, and we are interested in studying it.
Another important point for Baku these days is the development of international transport corridors, where Azerbaijan will be a hub. In particular, you may be interested in the East-West project, known as the Great Silk Road. What is Israel's interest in these projects?
First, the East-West transport corridor is very interesting and ambitious. On the one hand, you have a huge market in China, on the other hand - in Europe. Azerbaijan has a very favorable geostrategic position along this path. The main question however, is how far this corridor will be competitive with other, already existing transport routes. Of course, this project has great opportunities to reduce the time and costs of transportation, but at the same time it is a big challenge for the states that will participate in this project. It is about harmonizing the activities of customs, railway services, etc. Of course, if successful, this project has great potential and is of great interest to us.
In conclusion. The relations between Azerbaijan and Israel can be called a model of dialogue between civilizations. How do you assess the role of Azerbaijan in the global dialogue? After all, the skeptics sometimes say that Baku's efforts are just a drop in the ocean amid the collapse of the values of multiculturalism in the world...
The collapse of the Soviet Union has raised fears about the possibility of a global clash of civilizations. Azerbaijan, however, is trying to create a platform for multicultural dialogue, coexistence of representatives of various nations and religions.
As an example, take the Jewish community living here and the absence of any signs of anti-Semitism. Israel sees Azerbaijan as an alternative model of coexistence of different cultures in the territory of one country.
Unfortunately, we can see a huge amount of bloodshed in different and especially Muslim countries of the world such as in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites. Azerbaijan is a country in which the Sunnis and Shiites not only peacefully coexist but even pray together.
There is also tolerance and respect for other religions, the Christian, Jewish community and even Baha'i representatives. That is why we appreciate the efforts of your government, which gathers representatives of other cultures in Baku to make the world better.
Thank you for your interview, Mr. Ambassador.