A.T.: Dear Mr. Ambassador, given a 24-year history of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and State of Israel, what ups and downs would you respectively make the focus on and prevent from taking place anew?
D.S.: I do agree that when we are nearing a quarter of century of diplomatic relations between Israel and Azerbaijan it is an appropriate time to pose reflect on this outstanding and exemplary story of warm and mutually beneficial relations. To me, it is not a question of ups and downs balance but more of ups and even more ups, waiting to be materialized. Israel and Azerbaijan have achieved a lot in almost 24 years: sound relations based on true and time tested friendship between the people which started more than a millennium ago; economic relations that witnessed vibrant activities in many fields: Agriculture; IT, telecommunication; water treatment and management; irrigation and energy. Obviously a lot more can be and should be done. I strongly believe that both governments have similar will in this regard. We can see more cooperation between universities; more student exchange and also we are realizing that streamlining efforts in the government level will be highly beneficial for further development of the bilateral relations.
A.T.: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict puts Azerbaijan between a rock and a hard place. Israel has a similar problem which, regrettably, has lasted longer. What would you advise Azerbaijan that it should follow to not repeat the wrongdoings of Israel in solving the Palestinian course?
D.S.: I trust Azerbaijani leadership that it is capable to handle the foreign policy of the state without my advice. What we have learned from decades of bitter conflicts in West Asia is that military force cannot alone bring about the much desired peace. We have also learnt that once our neighbors are seriously interested in result oriented negotiation process peace can be achieved. Israel proved its desire for peace and so did Egypt and Jordan when their leaders signed peace agreements with Israel. The international community played a supportive role. To me it means that peace cannot be achieved if there is lack of genuine will of the warring parties in peace. International community can play a constructive role but there are limits to what the international community can do. Israel strongly believes in result oriented, bona fide and direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. We hope that the international community will encourage this process as it is the only viable way to achieve durable peace.
A.T.: Azerbaijan is a major supplier of energy resources to Israel. The two countries are also bound up with military co-operation. In your opinion, what remains as an unknown quantity and needs to be unfolded for the benefit of both nations?
D.S.: I think that there two areas where cooperation between both countries can be considerably EXTENDED AND DEEPENED. One of it is Joint ventures between Israeli companies and Azeri companies in agriculture, pharmaceutics, telecommunication, clean energy to name just few of them. In addition I hope that investors from both countries will seriously look for opportunities in Israel and Azerbaijan. Another area for cooperation is in higher education field especially in science, agro-business, IT, cyber, and medical studies and so on. In addition I think it is equally important for Azerbaijan to develop program for early childhood development (age 0-6). Israel is ready to cooperate with Azerbaijan in these areas.
A.T.: You were appointed to be the head of the Israeli diplomatic corps to Azerbaijan? What did you know about Azerbaijan before you arrived here, what opened up before your eyes upon your arrival and what would take from Azerbaijan back home?
D.S.: Regrettably Azerbaijan in particular and the Caucasus in general is not an area that receives a lot of attention in Israeli schools. I think that despite the considerable immigration from Azerbaijan to Israel, relatively few Israelis are well informed about this region. During my military service I met one soldier who migrated from Azerbaijan. I vividly recall how he spoke with passion about the beauty of the Caucasus Mountains, the fresh air, the wonderful taste of the various deciduous fruit trees and the local festival. Later on, Israelis were exposed to the horrors of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It seemed like one of this war that is nourished by ethnic animosity, embittered by violence and destruction with no sensible solution in sight. Once I have arrived to Azerbaijan I soon realized that the lingering conflict with Armenia is only one aspect. Azerbaijan was able to register a comprehensive development despite the horrors of war. That it was able to dramatically reduce the level of poverty. I have learnt that unlike the ongoing violence between Shia and Sunna in vast areas within the Middle–East, Azerbaijan was able to set an alternative model for peaceful co-existence of Sunni and Shia believers. I have realized that also a number of other religious groups enjoy full freedom and are genuinely respected by the Muslim majority. It is remarkable that Jewish communities have been flourishing in Azerbaijan since time immemorial.
A.T.: Yitzhak Rabin, the respected Israeli politician, and Ariel Sharon, the country’s 11th Prime Minister, nicknamed as the King of Israel, both rose to the rank of general, had to deal with intifada and proved themselves to be the leaders of the nation. In your opinion, what changes should happen in the society to nurture political leaders versus ‘managers’?
D.S.: I think that there is no clear cut answer to the question whether intricate and challenging circumstances bring about the rise of the towering leaders, or towering leaders rise to power is incidental and while sitting at the helm of a state they are able to steer the country from troubled water to safety. Israel has had a number of towering leaders such as David Ben-Gurion who was determine to declare independence against all odds, Prime Minister Begin who could lead his country towards signing a peace agreement with Egypt Just to name leaders who were not mentioned in your question. However, one should not under estimate the contribution of those who may be more like managers. Smooth function of the government apparatus is important as well.
Azerbaijan Today magazine.2016.