FAKE NEWS CANNOT UNDERMINE THE SPECIAL AZERBAIJANI-ISRAELI RELATIONSHIP

FAKE NEWS CANNOT UNDERMINE THE SPECIAL AZERBAIJANI-ISRAELI RELATIONSHIP
Asim Mollazade

Reports claimed that Azerbaijan asked the Israeli firm Aeronautics Defense Systems to conduct a live demonstration of an armed drone against an Armenian military position.

As a member of Azerbaijan’s national legislature, I have had the privilege of directly experiencing the special relationship between my Muslim-majority nation and the Jewish State of Israel. This unlikely relationship is nothing short of a modern-day miracle and indeed the quintessential model for all such relationships.

Yet at a time when "fake news” is increasingly prevalent, two widely circulated false storylines run the risk of undermining Azerbaijani-Israeli ties. It is my duty to speak up, dispel the rumors, and tell the world the real story.

In the more recent of the two alleged developments, reports claimed that Azerbaijan asked the Israeli firm Aeronautics Defense Systems to conduct a live demonstration of an armed drone against an Armenian military position. ADS flatly denied the rumor, which was initially published in Ma’ariv. The company told The Jerusalem Post that it "never performs demonstrations using live fire and that was true in this case as well.”

Meanwhile, in late July, a fake news webpage claiming to be Haaretz stated that in recent months, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s son "has been under the supervision of Israeli doctors” while recovering from a "difficult illness” at a $6 million villa that the Aliyev family purchased in Haifa. The fake news report added that the presidential family invested "around $600 million” in personal assets on the Israeli stock exchange.

This fabrication shows that Azerbaijan and Israel, much like the US, are victims of cyber and information warfare. In fact, this is not the first attempt to sabotage the Israeli-Azerbaijani relationship through fake news. Earlier this year, an Egyptian newspaper cited a "report” from The Guardian about 50 tons of heroin being trafficked through Azerbaijan. This was fake news from a website masquerading as The Guardian. The webpage has been removed.

Unfortunately, fake news inflicts real damage. Unlike in a court of law, where defendants are presumed "innocent until proved guilty,” the indictment levied by fake news can sometimes never be undone, not even by the removal of the fabrication from the Internet. Those who consume the false information commit it to memory and have been influenced – they will not necessarily read the follow-up reports that expose the fake news for what it is.

Naturally, Armenian media, not known for its journalistic maturity or ethics, capitalized on the false reports. This is not surprising, given our nation’s decades-long conflict with Yerevan over the Armenian occupation of our internationality recognized Azerbaijani territory in Nagorno-Karabakh.

While the exact source of the false reports is unknown, it is clear that there is one party standing to gain from souring bilateral relations between Israel and Azerbaijan: Armenia. Any seasoned or even casual observer of international relations can trace the motive to Yerevan.

For those of us who are seeking real news, rather than fabrications, the flourishing relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan is a great place to start.

Azerbaijani-Israeli ties have nothing to do with the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Our warm ties with Israel are born out of mutual admiration and deep strategic interests, not from antipathy for either nation’s adversaries. Israeli-Azerbaijani bonds are unrelated to any third party.

In 2012, we signed agreements totaling $1.6 billion to buy drones, anti-aircraft technology and missile defense systems from Israel, whose defense contractors are known for their ingenuity and cutting-edge products. It is clearly in Azerbaijan’s best interests to protect itself by purchasing top-quality defense equipment from an ally – this is, after all, what allies do. To claim that we are using Israeli drones to illegally attack Armenia, as the recent reports alleged, is offensive and utterly false.

But the real news about Israel and Azerbaijan is about much more than arms dealing.

In December 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Azerbaijan and praised our Muslim-majority nation’s warmth toward our 35,000-person Jewish community as "something that we can show the world.”

Israeli leaders’ previous landmark visits to Azerbaijan include trips by defense minister Moshe Ya’alon in 2014, foreign minister Avigdor Liberman in 2012, president Shimon Peres in 2009 and Netanyahu in 1996.

In 2013, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov led a high-level delegation to Israel, in the first visit of a high-ranking Azerbaijani official to the Jewish state since Azerbaijan became independent.

I experienced Israel myself as part of a delegation of Azerbaijani lawmakers in February 2016. A different group of Azerbaijani parliamentarians traveled to Israel in 2013. These official visits are crucial because of our multifaceted collaboration with Israel. We cooperate extensively with the Jewish state not just on defense – as some in the media would have you believe – but also in the realms of economy, energy and culture.

Israeli companies infuse their technological expertise into the Azerbaijani market, including the telecommunications firm Bezeq, which operates phone service throughout much of Azerbaijan. Israel, meanwhile, buys 40% of its oil from Azerbaijan.

The Jewish community, and not armaments, forms the foundation of this bilateral relationship. Azerbaijan’s "Mountain Jews” have lived in the Caucasus region since the 5th century C.E. Antisemitism is not, has never been and never will be a problem in Azerbaijan.

Given the global demonization of Israel and Jews, particularly within the Islamic world, Muslim- majority Azerbaijan’s celebration (not mere tolerance) of its Jewish community is a truly inspiring story. It is a story that media outlets would be well-served covering – leaving the fake news in the dust.

The author is a member of the Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan (Milli Majlis), chairman of the Democratic Reforms Party and a noted authority on the geopolitics of the former Soviet Union, Euro-Atlantic integration and interreligious and intercultural affairs.

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