The Armenian government decided on Thursday to open an embassy in Israel, saying that it wants to improve Armenia’s uneasy relationship with the Jewish state.
“Israel is an important player in the Middle East,” Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian said during a cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “The opening of the embassy will contribute to the deepening of bilateral relations and protection of Armenia’s interests in the region.”
The decision approved by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s cabinet says that the embassy should be inaugurated in Tel Aviv by the beginning of next year. It will not only “give new impetus” to Israeli-Armenian relations but also help to secure the Armenian Apostolic Church’s continued strong presence in the Holy Land and Jerusalem in particular, said the government.
Israel hailed the decision later in the day, with Foreign Minister Israel Katz calling it a “significant step in the development of bilateral relations.”
“The opening of the embassy is a new and important chapter in bilateral relations, and we are confident that this will further strengthen the friendship between the two peoples and enhance cooperation between the states in all areas,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Nizar Amer.
Armenia and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1992 but have had no embassies in each other’s capitals until now. Armenian ambassadors to Israel have been based in Paris, Cairo and even Yerevan.
Mnatsakanian indicated that the Armenian government would welcome the opening of an Israeli embassy in Yerevan. “That is on the agenda of our dialogue,” he said.
Armenian-Israeli relations have long been frosty, reflecting differing geopolitical priorities of the two states. Armenia has maintained a warm rapport with Iran, while Israel has pursued strategic cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Armenian leaders have expressed concern over Israel’s large-scale arms deals with Azerbaijan which have reportedly totaled at least $2 billion since 2012. The Azerbaijani army used some of its Israeli-made weapons, notably sophisticated anti-tank rockets, during April 2016 hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Relations between the two countries seemingly began to warm up with a July 2017 visit to Yerevan by Israel’s Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi. Hanegbi and then Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian signed agreements on avoidance of double taxation and mutual lifting of visa requirements for holders of Armenian and Israeli diplomatic passports.
Nalbandian visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November 2017. “We'll strengthen relations between Israel and Armenia in tech, cyberspace and agriculture,” Netanyahu tweeted after the talks.
Netanyahu reaffirmed his government’s readiness for closer ties with Yerevan when he congratulated Pashinian on becoming prime minister in May 2018.
In a January 2019 interview with “The Jerusalem Post” newspaper, Mnatsakanian said the current Armenian leadership wants to “develop relations with Israel, including in the military field.” Asked about a possible negative reaction from Iran, he said: “Relations with one country won’t jeopardize our connections with others.”