Armenia has held “very open and positive” discussions with Israel regarding large-scale sales of Israeli-made weapons to Azerbaijan, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said during a rare official visit to Jerusalem this week.
In an interview with Israeli Public Television, Nalbandian also said that Yerevan expects the Jewish state to officially recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. “It was and it is a topic of our dialogue,” he said in remarks publicized by the Armenian Foreign Ministry on Friday.
Nalbandian met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and other Israeli officials during what he called a “short but very intensive” visit that began on Monday.
Netanhyahu tweeted after his talks with the chief Armenian diplomat that they agreed to “strengthen” bilateral ties in areas such information technology and agriculture. Nalbandian was similarly reported to express confidence that they will gain “new impetus.”
Armenian-Israeli relations have been frosty until now not least because of Israel’s close military cooperation with Azerbaijan. Israeli defense companies have sold at least $1.6 billion worth of weapons to Baku in the last few years alone. Some of them were used by the Azerbaijani army during the April 2016 fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Arms trade is not trade in vegetables and it always has a dark side that could have some negative consequences,” Nalbandian told the Israeli broadcaster. “What is important in Armenia’s relations with Israel is that we have no taboo issues in our discussions, and even sensitive questions we are discussing openly and trying to find ways out.”
“We are discussing [the matter] in a very open and very positive way,” he added when asked about Yerevan’s expectations from the Israeli government on the arms deals with Baku. He did not elaborate.
Nalbandian also did not say whether he discussed with Netanyahu a recent scandal involving an Israeli company accused of attacking an Armenian army position this summer with “suicide” drones manufactured and sold by it to the Azerbaijani military. In August, an Israeli government agency halted the delivery of the Orbiter drones to Azerbaijan pending an investigation conducted by it.
In a short statement released on Tuesday, a spokesman for Netanyahu said the Israeli leader raised with Nalbandian “the issue of Iran's attempts to establish a military presence in the region and its negative influence.” The statement did not elaborate.
Nalbandian insisted that Armenia’s cordial rapport with Iran is not an “obstacle in our bilateral relations with Israel.” The Israelis, he said, “have to understand” that with Azerbaijan and Turkey keeping their borders with Armenia closed Iran as well as Georgia serve as his landlocked nation’s sole commercial conduits to the outside world.
In another indication of their uneasy relationship, Armenia and Israel have still not opened embassies in each other’s capitals. Israeli ambassadors to Armenia have been based in Tbilisi.
“As soon as Israel opens an embassy in Armenia, we will reciprocate and open an embassy in Israel,” said Nalbandian. He did not specify when that might happen.