JERUSALEM (RFE/RL) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to improve Israel’s uneasy relationship with Armenia after holding talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
The two men were reported to have discussed not only Armenian-Israeli ties but also the situation in the Middle East and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, with Netanyahu expressing concern over Iran’s “attempts to establish a military presence in the region.”
“We’ll strengthen relations between Israel and Armenia in tech, cyberspace and agriculture,” the Israeli leader, who is also his country’s foreign minister, tweeted after the talks.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry likewise said Netanyahu told Nalbandian that Israel is ready to “expand” its relations with Armenia and sees “great potential for cooperation” between the two nations.
According to a ministry statement, Nalbandian expressed confidence, for his part, that bilateral contacts will gain “new impetus.” They have already intensified of late, he said during what was apparently his first-ever official visit to Israel.
The statement added that the two men explored ways of boosting modest bilateral trade and cooperating in the areas of agriculture, information technology, education and tourism.
Israel’s Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi similarly sought to “strengthen our relationship” when he visited Yerevan in late July. Hanegbi and Nalbandian signed agreements on avoidance of double taxation and mutual lifting of visa requirements for holders of Armenian and Israeli diplomatic passports. The Israeli cabinet member, who is affiliated with Netanyahu’s Likud party, also met with Prime Minister Karen Karapetian.
Armenian-Israeli relations have been frosty until now, reflecting differing geopolitical priorities of the two states. Armenia has maintained a warm rapport with Iran to ease its geographic isolation, while Israel has pursued strategic cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Armenia has been particularly worried about Israel’s large-scale arms deals with its arch-foe. In 2012, Israeli defense officials confirmed a reported deal to provide the Azerbaijani military with more weapons worth a combined $1.6 billion. The Azerbaijani army used some of these Israeli-made weapons, notably sophisticated anti-tank rockets, during April 2016 hostilities in Karabakh.
Just weeks after Hanegbi’s trip to Yerevan, an Israeli Defense Ministry agency halted exports to Azerbaijan of “suicide” drones manufactured by an Israeli company accused of using them against an Armenian army position in early July. The export control agency launched an investigation into the alleged incident in August.
The Israeli daily “Maariv” reported at the time that representatives of the company, Aeronautics Defense Systems (ADS), traveled to Azerbaijan this summer to finalize a contract for the sale of Orbiter drones to the Azerbaijani military. The paper claimed that two Israeli drone operators working for the company rebuffed Azerbaijani officials’ demand to demonstrate the use of the deadly drone by hitting the Armenian position with it. But other, more senior ADS executives agreed on launch the deadly craft on the target, according to “Maariv.” ADS denied the report.
It was not clear whether Nalbandian discussed the alleged drone attack with Netanyahu. The Armenian Foreign Ministry statement said only that he briefed Netanyahu on Armenia’s and international mediators’ efforts to achieve a “solely peaceful” solution to the Karabakh conflict.
The ministry added that the two men also “exchanged views on pressing regional and international issues, developments in the Middle East.”
A short statement by a spokesman for Netanyahu said: “The Prime Minister raised the issue of Iran’s attempts to establish a military presence in the region and its negative influence.” It did not elaborate.