Herzog's Azerbaijan trip highlights other side of Israel-Baku ties

Published date02 June 2023
Publication titleJerusalem Post, The: Web Edition Articles (Israel)
Yet, with unusually tight security out of real concern about disruptions, and with the International Atomic Energy Agency making news during the visit, the Iranian threat overshadowed the other aspects of the trip

The trip came as ties between Jerusalem and Baku grew closer; after 30 years of relations, Azerbaijan opened an embassy in Israel for the first time earlier this year.

The visit started like many others: Herzog was met by an honor guard at a special terminal of Baku's airport, as well as by children from the local Chabad school singing and waving Israeli and Azerbaijani flags.

Herzog's motorcade sped down the highway to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's dacha in the Baku suburb of Zagulba. The building, constructed in 2008, looks like a fairly typical European presidential palace from the outside, and has marble floors and columns and crystal chandeliers on the inside, with a beautiful view of the Caspian Sea from its balconies.

The presidents held a one-on-one meeting, and then one with their teams seated at a long table. After that came an official lunch, with special kosher meals for Health and Interior Minister Moshe Arbel, Azerbaijani rabbis and others, which looked almost exactly like what everyone else was eating.

Media or no media?

Herzog, Aliyev and their wives stopped at every table to say hello and exchange a few words, including at the journalists' table. Only Israeli media were at the lunch, and that was the result of a battle highlighting the difference between press relations in liberal democracies versus authoritarian systems. According to sources in the delegation, Aliyev's staff did not want journalists at the lunch, while Herzog, who has honed such open and friendly relations with the media in 20 years in politics to the extent that he still exchanges WhatsApp messages with journalists as president, insisted that they be in the room. The compromise was that no photos were allowed.

When the presidents made statements to the press, they both had a lot to say about everything but Iran, but the Islamic Republic still loomed large.

Logistics are not usually the most interesting part of a presidential visit, but the restrictions on the delegation revealed how great the concern was that Iran, which shares a 670-km. border with Azerbaijan, would find a way to attack or spy on the group.

Everyone in the delegation – diplomats, staff, journalists – were warned that they must follow the schedule and not leave the hotel on their own...

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