Israeli Ambassador: Azerbaijan is really a phenomenon that I will not forget (INTERVIEW)

Israeli Ambassador: Azerbaijan is really a phenomenon that I will not forget (INTERVIEW)

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Nov.18

By Leman Zeynalova – Trend:

Trend’s exclusive interview with outgoing Ambassador of Israel to Azerbaijan Dan Stav

Prospects for energy cooperation

Dan Stav said Israel wants to see Azerbaijani companies involved in its gas exploration.

He recalled that the Caspian Drilling Company (CDC), 92.44 percent of which is owned by Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR, was involved in gas exploration in Israel.

“It was not successful, regrettably. You know that gas exploration is not a 100 percent chance, it is about luck. So we do want to see Azerbaijani companies involved there. Azerbaijan has a lot to offer and we can learn a lot from your experience,” said the ambassador.

Stav went on to add that Israel would also like to learn from the experience of Azerbaijan’s state oil fund SOFAZ.

“You have built a very impressive mechanism. Even in tough economic times that I witnessed here in 2015-2016, still the government was very careful not just to splurge all the money that has been accumulated, but rather to use it very skillfully and very wisely. The concept of accumulating money for the future generations is very welcome and we can learn from you,” noted the Israeli ambassador.

Dan Stav went on to add that oil supplies from Azerbaijan to Israel are running very smoothly and Azerbaijan is a reliable supplier.

“Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline has enabled us to receive oil from Azerbaijan since 2006. The percentage of supplies is different every year, because it is a kind of a deal with Israeli private companies that are purchasing it for the refineries. But all in all, it is something between 25 to 33 percent of our consumption, which is very important,” said the Israeli ambassador.

He pointed out that Azerbaijan is also very much interested in developing cleaner energy, that’s to say, wind, solar and thermal energy and Israeli companies are interested in working with Azerbaijan in this sphere.

“Israel has at least interesting technologies in solar and wind energy. Israeli companies have shown interest to cooperate with Azerbaijan in renewable energy sphere. There is an issue of tariff. I think if it is commercially viable, Israeli companies would be very happy to work here,” noted Dan Stav.

Relations in the sphere of tourism

He noted that the number of Israeli tourists visiting Azerbaijan is expected to reach 45,000 people this year.

He pointed out that there is a continuous tourist flow from Israel to Azerbaijan, since there are Azerbaijani Jews living in Israel, who come to Azerbaijan as tourists.

“When I came here four years ago, the number of Israeli tourists visiting Azerbaijan was 10,000, including private visits and business visits. This year, most likely, we will reach the figure of 45,000. So, it is really a huge increment. It is built on the good work of Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL), as well as Israeli Airline Israir that has been very active in promoting Baku as an interesting destination for weekend. It is only 3 hours of flight from Israel to Azerbaijan,” he said.

At the same time, he said the number of weekly flights from Azerbaijan to Israel has also increased.

“I think Israel has become a very interesting destination for Azerbaijani tourists, not only for private and health tourism, but also for those who want to see an interesting country,” said the Israeli envoy.

The ambassador also praised the role of the ASAN Visa system in developing relations between Israel and Azerbaijan in tourism sphere.

“ASAN Visa is a wonderful system, it works smoothly, it is reliable and whenever we have some problems, we always have someone to listen to us. So, the cooperation is excellent. From our side, we have a consular section here. It is our work to provide the best possible service for those who are interested to visit Israel. We try to cut short the waiting time for visas. We try to expedite the process and visa fee is very reasonable. Israel is an interesting small country with very good infrastructure. You can move around very easily and it offers everything from heritage to nature, from desert to green area in the north. We also have a very warm Azerbaijani community in Israel,” said Dan Stav.

The ambassador went on to add that Israeli tourists visiting Azerbaijan give very positive feedbacks.

“When you follow the feedbacks on Facebook, you see that 99 percent are so happy from what they see here, they are happy about not only the cheap prices, good hotels, fascinating Baku, but also the very warm attitude of people here. All in all, it is a very lovely experience,” he added.

Promising areas of cooperation

Israeli companies are interested in working in Azerbaijan’s agricultural sphere, said Dan Stav.

“We have growing trade in agriculture and I think, the potential is much higher than what we actually do. I see many and many Israeli companies that want to be involved here. You have a great potential in agriculture. You have fertile land, high-quality water and hardworking people. We can also work together to upgrade the professionalism of agronomists,” he said.

Talking about overall status of trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Israel, Dan Stav said trade is something that requires a lot of improvement.

“It stays more or less the same, according to our data, it stands at around $160 million annually in both directions, mostly from Israel. I think Azerbaijan has a lot of good products that can be marketed in Israel. Azerbaijan can try to sell them to Israel via a trading house. It is a matter of promotion. The world is a small, global village. If you are not there, somebody else will provide their goods. If you have something better of cheaper, or more interesting, they will buy it from you. But you have to be there, since despite the internet, it is very hard to give up the physical presence. It is very important to do it, in order to uplift the trade between the two countries,” said the Israeli envoy.

As for investments, he said, Azerbaijani investments in Israel are very minimal, expressing hope that this situation will change.

“Azerbaijan is considered as terra incognita to many Israeli businesses. They would like to look for promising investments in Azerbaijan. Political stability here, reforms in customs and tax ministry, all make Azerbaijan much more attractive,” said Dan Stav.

Role of Azerbaijan-Israel International Association (AZIZ)

The two countries have a very important friendship association, Azerbaijan-Israel International Association (AZIZ), said the ambassador.

“Jewish community in Azerbaijan is living here in peace, as an integral part of the society. I think those, who migrated to Israel did it because they wanted to live with their Jewish brothers, not because they suffered from prosecution like in other countries. There is also Azerbaijani community in Israel. These two communities serve as a human bridge between our countries. We have very important friendship association, Azerbaijan-Israel International Association (AZIZ). It works tirelessly in order to bring information about Azerbaijan, its culture, heritage, to bring musicians together. We issue visas to these musicians to come to Israel. I met many journalists, professionals that came from Israel invited by AZIZ to explore Azerbaijan. I think AZIZ is playing an important role in promoting Azerbaijan among Israelis. I meet very frequently heads of AZIZ in Azerbaijan and Israel, Vahid Bayramov and Lev Spivak. I am very grateful for what they do. Both countries acknowledge their contribution. People-to-people contacts are the basic layer of relations. Therefore, I am very grateful for what they do,” he said.

Israel’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

“Implications of the conflict, if it continues to simmer, can be much beyond the region. We said and we keep saying that we support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. We support peaceful resolution of the conflict. We also support the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group in this regard. This is the issue that Azerbaijan and Armenia should find a solution that will be acceptable to them. It is a tragedy that people are killed, resources are spent. I know what is Nagorno-Karabakh for Azerbaijan, I know what is Shusha for Azerbaijan. I do hope that a peaceful resolution will enable you to come and be in your territories,” said the Israeli ambassador.

Highlights of Israeli-Azerbaijani relations in last four years

“First, I really regret the fact that I have to complete my tenure in about a week from now. It has been very fascinating four years and three months here in Azerbaijan. I think it is one of the most interesting posting that Israeli ambassador can wish for. It is very hard to say what I achieved during my tenure, because whatever I achieved is built on the work of all my predecessors and what I may have achieved will be a platform for my successors to build on and further enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries,” said the ambassador.

Looking at the highlights of this tenure, Stav said it was the first visit of the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu after 19 years. “This visit was remarkable with signing of four agreements, with the most important one being the establishment of a joint intergovernmental commission.”

“Then during this tenure I can mention also the cooperation in defense area. There were two important visits: the visit of Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov to Israel in 2017 and the visit of then Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Azerbaijan in 2018,” he said.

In addition to that the two sides try very hard to strengthen the civilian pillar of the relations between the countries, said Dan Stav.

“Defense relations are very deep. Energy cooperation, especially, when it comes to import of oil from Azerbaijan to Israel is running very smoothly. But what is left to do, I think it is to really strengthen the civilian pillar, which means more business-to-business contacts, more activity in agriculture, education, healthcare, expand the cooperation in innovation and creation of the conducive environment for start-ups in Azerbaijan and so on,” he noted.

Stav pointed out that he is leaving as a goodwill ambassador of Azerbaijan to Israel.

“I came here after I have been covering South Asia for 17 years, including India and Nepal. Then I had an opportunity to come to Azerbaijan. Although it is quite close to Israel, I knew nothing about Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a modern country, it is a wonderful place. However, it is a different environment and it took me some time to adapt, because it is not South Asia. Azerbaijan is a fascinating phenomenon. There is a very interesting society. I am very sorry to leave. Baku is one of the coziest cities to live. It is safe, nice and clean. I think that I am leaving as the goodwill ambassador of Azerbaijan to Israel. It is really a phenomenon that I will not forget. I will come here as a tourist. I am leaving Azerbaijan with really positive emotions,” he said.

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Follow the author on Twitter: @Lyaman_Zeyn

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