Netanyahu to Make Historic Diplomatic Middle East Visit

Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli Prime Minister

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is set to embark on an historic visit with some of the more moderate majority Muslim countries. This is an effort to reach out to Muslim nations so as to foster diplomacy and, perhaps, even open up some further avenues for trade. While visiting, Netanyahu also plans to meet with important figures within the Jewish communities of these respective nations.

The two nations in question are both moderate Islamic countries: Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Both of these are former Soviet holdings that are located in Asia.

The reason for these meetings -- the first of their kind in some 25 years -- has to do with economics and foreign relations. Both of these nations are important, strategically, for a number of reasons.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have long been high. Azerbaijan shares an extended border with Iran. They are also not governed by Islamic law and they have long had friendly relations with Israel. As a country to reach out to, Netanyahu could not have chosen a much better place to start. These are nations that are at least amenable to the interests and needs of Israel. Azerbaijan has one of the larger Jewish populations in the region – with some 20,000 Jews living within the nation's borders.

Economically, there is a long-standing history between Israel and Azerbaijan. The latter provides Israel with the bulk of the oil they need to run their country. In return, Israel provide advanced weapons systems. Azerbaijan is one of the bigger players in Israeli trade, and this is a country that is almost entirely Muslim.

In Kazakhstan, the interests are more military and tech-based. The government of Kazakhstan is interested in a variety of weapons systems, sophisticated counter-terrorism techniques and training, as well as to take advantage of the technological innovation that is coming out of Israeli tech startups. They see this as a way to enhance the economy and open it to different markets. As of yet, the economy of Kazakhstan is almost entirely dependent on oil-based industry. This will be the first time that a current Prime Minister of Israel will visit the nation of Kazakhstan.

Though the Muslim majority in Kazakhstan is not as high as in Azerbaijan, some 70% of the nation is still of the Muslim faith.
Located predominately in the capital city, there is a fairly significant Jewish population in Kazakhstan, though the exact numbers are not known. Estimates range from a little over 10,000 up to over 30,000.

The fact that these two nations have such a Muslim-dominated population makes this visit all the more unlikely. However, there are key reasons for all three nations to enhance diplomatic and trade relations.

What also makes Kazakhstan of particular importance to Israel is that they have received a two year spot in the United Nations Security Council. A firm ally with Russia, who tends to support Palestinian causes in the UN Council, Kazakhstan typically follows suit. The idea is that with increased diplomatic efforts and improved trade relations, Israel might be able to sway the way in which Kazakhstan votes within the Council. This would be of dramatic importance to Israel, both internally and internationally.

A lot of this information might lead one to wonder how the two former Soviet nations stand to benefit from this relationship as, aside from military hardware, it seems to be more beneficial for Israel than the other two countries. However, looks would be deceiving.

As the easy access to various forms of hydrocarbons declines, the cost of production starts to climb. Add to this the seeming trend to move away from fossil fuels to other forms of energy and the very basis of the economies of these two countries is in jeopardy. They see the ability to utilize high tech knowhow and innovation as key -- they can use these things to help change the direction of the economy. Having good relations with Israel, as well as the all-important trade deals associated with this relationship, could prove invaluable to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has also seen an uptick in terrorism within its borders, which shows just how important Israeli military hardware and counter-terrorism strategy really are to the country.

What we have here is a potentially mutually beneficial relationship between countries that don't tend to side with one another, though do not have any open conflict. This could prove incredibly vital to the stability of the region, as well as opening up Israeli trade.