BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 11
By Leman Zeynalova – Trend:
Trend’s exclusive interview with Ambassador of Israel to Azerbaijan George Deek
“It is my first interview to Azerbaijani media. It is a pleasure for me after three months and a few weeks in this country. I thank the government, the people of Azerbaijan for the warm welcome and for making me and my family feel much at home,” said the ambassador.
Overview of bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Israel
Deek said that the relations between Israel and Azerbaijan are at the level of strategic partnership that is now growing and growing with time.
“We cooperate in various fields and now we are very much trying to even more develop the economic relations. One of the main indicators of the rise of economic relations is the tourism industry. In 2016, we had 10,000 tourists from Israel coming to Azerbaijan and in 2019, it reached 65,000, which is 500 percent increase in less than four years. That’s one indicator of the strengthening relations between the two countries on the peoples’ level. When relations between people are getting stronger and closer, we also see its impact on business relations, economic cooperation between the two countries. Right now, we have companies from Israel coming here and working together with Azerbaijani partners, Azerbaijani government, private sector in the fields of communication, agriculture, water management, technologies. That’s what we hope to continue to grow in my time here with the hope that the total trade between the countries will continue going up. Right now it is not high enough in my opinion, but it is growing,” said the Israeli ambassador.
Deek said there are three major areas of energy cooperation between the two countries with one of them being oil.
He noted that Azerbaijani oil covers 30 percent of oil consumption in Israel.
“So, for us, that is a very strategic element of our cooperation in relationship,” said the diplomat.
Deek went on to add that the second area of cooperation is gas exploration.
“Azerbaijan has many decades of experience in exploring and extracting oil and gas onshore and offshore. In Israel, we have only recently, about ten years ago discovered large amounts of gas in the Mediterranean Sea. We are extracting gas and trying to send it to Europe. I think in that sense, firstly, Israel and Azerbaijan are both a part of the same effort of trying to diversify the sources of gas that goes to Europe, instead of keeping everything in the hands of one country. Secondly, I believe that there is a lot of room and potential for Azerbaijani companies with their experience and knowledge they have to come to Israel and to try to explore gas in several places where we are still publishing tenders for companies who want to come and explore. We’ve already found very significant volumes of gas in Tamar, Leviathan and we believe there is even more gas in the sea. We’ve signed cooperation agreements and gas sales agreements with our neighbors. We sell gas to Egypt, Jordan. Now we’ve agreed on construction of the EastMed pipeline. Only recently, about three months ago, we opened EastMed Gas Forum. We would like to have Azerbaijani companies coming to Israel and joining the efforts for exploration. It is also a part of increasing our bilateral trade,” said the envoy.
He believes that the third area of cooperation is alternative energy.
“Azerbaijan right now is trying to develop more and more alternative energy resources. It has published tenders and is trying to develop wind and solar energy spheres. Israel is quite advanced in solar energy. We’ve begun to develop our solar energy more than a decade ago, much before most countries in the world. Already in 60s, houses in Israel had a solar panel on the roof. Now, of course, we have much more advanced solar energy technologies that are able to generate more power using the solar energy. Azerbaijan is now entering the world of alternative energy in the last few years and it has advanced already. Solar energy is a field where I would like to see more cooperation between our countries,” said Deek.
He also praised the significance of the Southern Gas Corridor, which is to bring Azerbaijani gas to Europe in late 2020.
“We very much welcome the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor, which runs from Azerbaijan to the shores of Italy. We truly believe that this will help diversify and increase the gas supply to Europe. Both EastMed and Southern Gas Corridor go to the same destination. But I don’t think there will be rivalry between these two projects for a very simple reason: the market in Europe is big enough and it is looking for diversifying its resources and there is a huge demand. I think these projects complement each other,” he explained.
Potential spheres of cooperation
One of the spheres, in which Israel and Azerbaijan can do much more together is agriculture, according to the Israeli envoy.
“Israel’s story of agriculture is an incredible one. We started as a country that is mostly desert, where you couldn’t grow anything. Today we have mangos and bananas, avocado growing in Israel. Some Israeli companies have started demonstration farms. There is a demonstration farm to show how these technologies work in Ganja by Israeli Netafim company. This demonstration farm is here to develop this kind of cooperation to show farmers, land owners how to grow more crops with less water. This project involves both the public and private sector. The goal of that farm is to train,” said Deek.
He went on to add that another classical field of cooperation is water management.
“Today Azerbaijan heavily relies on Kura River and other sources of water both for drinking and irrigation. In 2002, Israel had such a crisis of water that we were even thinking about importing water. Today, not only we have enough water for us, but we can even sell water to our neighbors. How did we do that? Today in Israel, we have five desalination plants, which desalinate sea water to provide us with drinking water. Seventy percent of the water we drink in Israel comes from the sea. In addition, we recycle our waste water. Around 95 percent of water is recycled. All the water we bring from our waste water is recycled and reused for agriculture. That allowed us to revive our water resources and to become a country that is a world leader in water management,” said the ambassador.
He pointed out that there are also new fields of cooperation.
“One of them is the field of cyber security. Today, Israel, with a very small population, has become a world power in cyber security. Twenty percent of all international investments that go into cyber security, go to Israel. We can work together in this sector with Azerbaijani banking sector, telecommunications sphere and etc. to provide better cyber security for this country,” said the envoy.
Deek noted that Israel can benefit a lot from what Azerbaijan has to offer not just in oil, but also agricultural production.
“The only thing that we need to overcome is the transport costs that make it too expensive. But if we work together and find a solution for that I think Israel can benefit a lot from Azerbaijani products,” he said.
Another field of cooperation is the technology and innovation, according to the Israeli diplomat.
“Right now, Israel is a start-up nation. We have the largest number of start-up companies per capita in the world. We are the second biggest center after the Silicon Valley for innovation technology and start-ups. Israeli companies could open part of their activity in Azerbaijan and develop joint Israeli-Azerbaijani technology. Azerbaijan is investing a lot in developing the innovation field. The government has opened an innovation agency, you have more and more funds being allocated to innovation, to brining a higher degree of technology to the country. I think Israel is a natural partner in that sense. If we can work together, bring the Israeli innovation together with the Azerbaijani spirit and power of Azerbaijan in various fields, we can achieve a lot,” Deek concluded.
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