President Serzh Sarkisian has expressed readiness to improve Armenia’s uneasy relationship with Israel adversely affected by the Jewish state’s military ties with Azerbaijan.
Sarkisian noted “centuries-old historical dealings” between the Armenian and Jewish peoples on Thursday after receiving the credentials of Israel’s new Jerusalem-based ambassador to Armenia, Eliyahu Yerushalmi. He said these ties “oblige” the two nations to “intensify and give a new quality to inter-state relations.”
“The president attached importance to a certain intensification of [Armenian-Israeli] inter-parliamentary and civic contacts observed of late,” Sarkisian’s press office said in a statement.
It added that Sarkisian and Yerushalmi discussed “possibilities and prospects for expanding Armenian-Israeli cooperation in various fields.”
Relations between Armenia and Israel have been less than cordial ever since the Soviet collapse, reflecting their conflicting geopolitical priorities. Armenia has maintained a warm rapport with Iran to ease its geographic isolation, while Israel has pursued strategic cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Armenia has been particularly worried about Israel’s large-scale arms deals with its arch-foe, Azerbaijan. In 2012, Israeli defense officials confirmed a reported deal to provide the Azerbaijani military with more weapons worth a combined $1.6 billion. The Azerbaijani army used some of these Israeli-made weapons, notably sophisticated anti-tank rockets, during April 2016 hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Israel’s current Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a staunch backer of close ties with Baku. According to Azerbaijani media reports, Lieberman reaffirmed last December his strong support for Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity and inviolability of borders” in the Karabakh conflict. He also declared that Azerbaijan “can teach a lesson of multiculturalism and tolerance to most countries in the world.”
In February 2016, a left-wing Israeli lawmaker claimed that Lieberman’s party has been paid by the Azerbaijani government to promote Baku’s political and financial interests in Israel. Lieberman denied the allegations.
In February 2015, the Armenian Foreign Ministry criticized Lieberman, who was Israel’s foreign minister at the time, for speaking at a ceremony organized by an Azerbaijani government-linked group in the Israeli city of Acre. The event was dedicated to the 23rd anniversary of the deaths of several hundred Azerbaijani residents of Khojaly, a small town in Nagorno-Karabakh. It was part of the group’s efforts to have the international community condemn the 1992 killings as a genocide committed by the Armenians.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian did not meet with Lieberman or any other Israeli cabinet member when he visited Israel in March 2015 to attend a concert by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Nalbandian again flew to Jerusalem earlier this week to take part in official ceremonies marking the completion of restoration works at the Church of Holy Sepulcher. He held no talks with Israeli leaders.