In a fireside chat, Gill Hoffman speaks with former Mossad senior and National Security Advisor, Uzi Arad.

Gil Hoffman, November 3, 2021

Former Mossad senior and National Security Advisor Uzi Arad has been through countless dramatic moments in the 48 years he served Israel: secret operations, thwarted terrorist attacks, the exposure of terrorist cells, terrorists killed and meetings in enemy states. The high point, he says, came toward the end of his public service when he had become the NSA to the PM and traveled with president Shimon Peres to Azerbaijan. 

“The most exciting moment was with the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev in July 2009. We spoke in Baku, where some of the oldest Jewish tribes lived. We traded polite remarks. We talked about the history of the Jews in South of the Caspian Sea. I asked him if I could recite the Jewish blessing. He asked me what it meant, I explained, and he responded, ‘Of course.’ Next to me were president Shimon Peres and Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau. I recited, ‘Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has imparted honor to flesh and blood.’ Everyone there said ‘Amen,’.

“You’re standing there, as an official representative of Israel, the country from which many Israeli ancestors were from, saying to yourself, ‘My god, what a historic moment.’ I have no words with which to describe that feeling.” Uzi Arad tells Gill Hoffman the chief political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post in a special interview. 

Where are we now and where do you expect our relations to go, considering decades of open relations?

We decided to enter full relations with them from 1991 when they restored their independence. As you know Israel was one of the first states that established diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan on April 7, 1992. Well, to answer your question I must first say that establishing diplomatic relations and later on much more with a Muslim country is not very simple. Not only that Azerbaijani people are mostly Muslims but the country is also Iran’s neighbor. But the good side of the story is that senior governmental officials of Azerbaijan especially Heydar and Ilham Aliyev do not have any sympathy towards Islam and from the beginning they appreciated bilateral relations with Israel.

Uzi Arad, a senior adviser to Israel's prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tel Aviv March 12, 2009. Netanyahu will likely shelve recently revived Israeli peace talks with Syria given its territorial demands and alliance with Iran, Arad said on Thursday.  REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen (ISRAEL POLITICS) - GM1E53D09JW01
Uzi Arad in Tel Aviv, March 12, 2009. At the time, Arad was a senior adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s prime minister-designate. Arad, a two-decade Mossad veteran, was Netanyahu’s national security adviser from 2009-2011. – Gil Cohen Mage

I was on a special six-month mission at the Israeli embassy in Baku. Ilham Aliyev’s daughter, Leyla who I know personally had a Jewish boyfriend, Emin Agalarov who she married later on, her boyfriend’s mother was told that it is better if his son doesn’t publicly declare that he’s Jewish. He has had very good relations with Jared Kushner. To be honest if our rabbis let Leyla convert to Judaism, she would do it with honor. But back to your question, I think that we are exactly where we want to be and that we have achieved most of our goals and the rest will be achieved soon.

You claim that we have achieved our goals. What were they? What did we want from Azerbaijan from the beginning?

Over the past 24 years more than 50 senior Israeli commanders under the auspices of NATO and in close cooperation with Turkey have been able to rebuild Azerbaijan’s military structure and organize it. The sale of military weapons to Azerbaijan, the construction of advanced drone production plants, the holding of 146 training courses for senior military commanders of Azerbaijan and staging multiple secret annual joint military exercises in the Caspian Sea, southern Azerbaijan and along its borders with Armenia are among the main areas of cooperation between Tel Aviv and Baku. Can you name any country that we have had such relations with?

The deployment of Mossad officers alongside CIA and FBI agents on one floor of the building of the Security Service of Azerbaijan is unprecedented in any other country. Keep in mind that none of this that I mentioned is a secret anymore. Of course, there are things that we can’t discuss.

Can you give us a hint?

Well, let everyone assume that there are only 30000 Jews living in Azerbaijan.

So how is it that Israel has such extensive cooperation with the government of Azerbaijan, but the Muslim population who are the majority are not angry about it?

The people of Azerbaijan are Muslim, but they are not aware of the developments in the Middle East. So except for a few people who have been influenced by Iran, most of the people of Azerbaijan have no religious identity and do not have a terrorist spirit like the Muslims of the Middle East. But at the same time most of our activities are in military and security spheres so ordinary people don’t usually know what’s going on.

How influential are we in their internal political decisions?

The US, British and Israeli embassies in Baku are a coalition with pursuing the same goals in the past 20 years. The coalition’s domination of Azerbaijan and the political decisions of Baku officials, is similar to Israel’s domination of the West Bank. with the difference that instead of Mahmoud Abbas, a civilized man named Ilham Aliyev is in charge of the administration of Azerbaijan.

Tell me about your own experience. How was it when you went to Baku? Do you have any memories that you would like to share?

My first visit to Azerbaijan took place in 1994

You were in Mossad back then?

Yes, and later I traveled with a security and military delegation to Azerbaijan as the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel to prepare for Shimon Peres’ visit. Shimon Peres’ historic trip to Baku near Tehran was one of the biggest historical events in the foreign policy of Israel.

The most exciting moment was with the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev in July 2009. We spoke in Baku, where some of the oldest Jewish tribes lived. We traded polite remarks. We talked about the history of the Jews in South of the Caspian Sea. I asked him if I could recite the Jewish blessing. He asked me what it meant, I explained, and he responded, ‘Of course.’ Next to me were president Shimon Peres and Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau. I recited, ‘Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has imparted honor to flesh and blood.’ Everyone there said ‘Amen,’.

Imagine you’re standing there, as an official representative of Israel, the country from which many Israeli ancestors were from, saying to yourself, ‘My god, what a historic moment.’ I have no words with which to describe that feeling.

Have you gone to Azerbaijan afterwards?

Yes. Since 2017, I have been trying to spend my holidays on the beaches of Baku. Security in Baku for us is as important as the security in Tel Aviv.

https://gil-hoffman.com/2021/10/31/the-security-in-baku-for-us-is-like-the-security-in-tel-aviv/

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