Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made a surprise trip to Azerbaijan on Wednesday, marking the first state visit to the Muslim-majority nation by someone holding his position.
“I’m happy to visit here on the first and historical visit of an Israeli defense minister in Azerbaijan,” Ya’alon said in the country’s capital of Baku. “Cooperation between the countries is flourishing. There are strategic relations between the countries, and cooperation in a number of fields.”
Ya’alon met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, and other senior officials, the Israeli Defense Ministry said.
A former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan-like its neighbor to the south, Iran-has a Shi’a Muslim majority among its population. But Azerbaijan is also a highly secular country and has forged close ties with the Western nations and Israel in the areas of defense, energy, and technology.
As part of the visit, Ya’alon will unveil the Israeli stall at the Adex International Defense Industry exhibition. He is also scheduled to meet with representatives of Azerbaijan’s small Jewish community.
“Here in Azerbaijan, there is a Jewish community with a magnificent history, which enjoys extraordinary treatment allowing it to live honorably,” said Ya’alon. “We very much value that.”