A FUTURE SHIFT IN ARMENIAN ISRAELI RELATIONS?

A FUTURE SHIFT IN ARMENIAN ISRAELI RELATIONS?

With a new Government in Yerevan, the possible end of the Netanyahu era, and the Crisis in Iran, 2019 may spell a new direction for relations between the two nations.

Text : Emilio Luciano Cricchio

 

 

Since the Armenian Revolution of 2018, analysts have been speculating that Armenia’s new Government could take a new stance towards Israel, where relations had seemed to have reached an impasse.

One would expect relations to be warmer considering the many similarities the two nations share. Both nations were born out of Genocide, both Israel and Armenia share borders with hostile and larger Islamic nations. Moreover, the description of both Armenians and Jews as persecuted yet entrepreneurial middle eastern minorities is quite apt.

Armenian foreign minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan even said in 2019: “We identify strongly with the Jewish people, we are very different from our neighbours. We have a long history and have survived many wars and invasions. We know how to adapt to different cultures.”

Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan 

 

Why the stalemate?

With all the similarities, issues remain. Two of the greatest drawbacks for Armenians, are firstly Israel’s lucrative energy and arms deals with Azerbaijan. These deals have strengthened the Azeri military and have led to Israeli weaponry being used against Armenian soldiers in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

Secondly, Israel’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. Many Armenians find Israel’s own experience with genocide to be an obvious reason for recognition, yet the Israeli Government persists in its reluctance to use the term “Genocide”. Even Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was quoted as saying to Armenian community leaders: “the murder of the members of the Armenian nation cannot be ignored”, again stopping short of using the Hebrew word for “Genocide”.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with representatives of the Armenian community in Jerusalem, 2015

 

For Israel, the issue of Armenia’s close relations with Iran’s distinctly “anti-Israel” Regime are a thorn in relations. Armenia’s small land border with Iran provides a much-needed lifeline, with Armenia’s southern regions awash with Iranian truckers heading as far as the Black Sea. With tensions on the straits of Hormuz and the lawlessness of Iran’s borders with Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Israel sees these trade relations as a great economic boost to Tehran.

 

But why is the tide turning now?

Not only are Israel’s relations with Azerbaijan relevant to Armenia but also their relations with Turkey. In recent years, relations with Israel have deteriorated significantly, with Netanyahu and Erdogan even exchanging personal jabs. This a complete turn around from the close alliance Israel shared with Kemalist Turkey right up to the early 2000s. Many analysts saw Tel Aviv’s reluctance to embrace the Armenians due to the security and economic benefits coming from Ankara, which has been openly hostile to Armenia, but this it seems is no more.

Furthermore, members of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, have been flooring motions to recognise the Armenian Genocide. Some political analysts see it as only a matter of time before Israel accepts the Armenian Genocide. This is coupled with a further development. Israel’s September election saw Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc unable to form a Government, with the task now handed to Benny Gantz’s coalition with represents a more liberal sphere of Israeli politics. With a new government in Yerevan, and perhaps soon a new government in Jerusalem, further developments regarding these relations may be on the horizon.

Nikol Pashinyan hosted by Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei in Iran

 

The other issue is Iran. Though Armenian PM Pashinyan has dispelled such speculation. Some argue that the future of Armenian-Iranian relations is by all means unpredictable. Iran’s economy is reeling with sanctions, hyperinflation, and recession. The Armenian Government may find that any benefits from close relations with the Iranian Government are diminishing constantly. This is coupled with Israel and the United States seeking to further isolate Iran, this is where trying to gain Armenia’s cooperation comes in. For now, Armenian-Iranian relations are non-negotiable according to Pashinyan, but who knows when or if this will change.

With all the unpredictability around the future in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Israel, Turkey and Iran, it’s hard to foresee a thawing of Armenian Israeli relations. However, with Israel’s condemnation of Turkey’s intervention into Kurdish-held Syria, and the US House of Reps. recognising the Genocide, this is definitely a set of bilateral relations that may well not stay in its stagnant state for much longer, with overtones from both capitals as well as governmental change, analysts will be paying closer attention to these relations.

Israeli PM Tamar Zandberg

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