Tuesday, 04 June 2019 17:30

The energy sector is a priority for cooperation, Dan Stav

Caspian Energy (CE): Your Excellency, this year you are completing your mission as an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the state of Israel to Azerbaijan. What are your plans for future and do you find your mission successful?

Dan Stav, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Israel to Azerbaijan: I will start thinking of the plans for future after my mission is over in 2019. Then, I will go back to the head office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel and will get an assignment that will suit the needs of the head office. I don’t know yet what I am going to do, but I am sure that it is going to be interesting, maybe not that interesting as my tenure here was.

Regarding the second question, I think I am completing 4 interesting years here. I consider the four years that I was supposed to be in Baku were very fascinating years. They were fascinating, first, because of the development that took place here. The various energy projects, the progress on certain transportation projects, on the relations with Armenia from “very sharp escalation” in 2016 to a “certain hope” in 2019. Slowly and gradually both sides will be able to establish a certain political process that in the future may lead to a reconciliation and resolution of the conflict.

To this I can add also the way that the government of Azerbaijan and its people coped with the oil price slump in 2014-2015 and maybe in the beginning of 2017, and the recovery process, the efforts to diversify the economy, to strengthen certain sectors that Israel may be very relevant. 

I also would like to note the achievements made in our bilateral relations within those 4 years of my stay here. I think the peak was the historic visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu here on December 13, 2016. During this visit we signed a number of agreements and among them one that Honorable President Aliyev labelled as the most important one. That agreement is about the establishment of the joint intergovernmental commission. During my tenure here I was not only privileged to see that agreement signed, but also to be here when the Honorable Minister of Taxes Mikayil Jabbarov went to Israel as the head of the commission. The historic first meeting took place in Jerusalem and it is a great pride.

The last issue that I want to mention in this regard is the defense sector. During my tenure here we saw again, and I know I am using it too often, but it is the historic visit of the Azerbaijan Minister of Defense to Israel. It is the first ever visit of the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan to Israel. It took place in 2017 and then there was a reciprocal visit of the Minister of Defense of Israel Avigdor Lieberman in 2018.

CE: In the last three years the goods turnover between the two countries has increased threefold. Which sectors became priority in cooperation?

Dan Stav: In fact, we have two sectors that are dominant in the relations. One of those is the defense sector and the other one is the energy sector. In the defense sector I think that the cooperation is utilizing its potential. This is not the case about energy. In terms of energy, Israel is one of the most important buyers of the Azeri oil and Azeri oil accounts for a considerable part of oil imported to Israel. I think in the energy sector we can do much more. We hope that now that the Southern Gas Corridor is going to be launched very soon and Israel will speak with Azerbaijan more details about the possibilities to be a part of it all, to supply Turkey with gas and do some swap deals, but again it is up to the government. The thing is that many important visits are now hostages to a large extent to the political crisis in Israel. Only last night the Knesset was dissolved. And again we have early elections on September 17th. There are a lot of deliberations about it, whether to do it in summer time or not in summer. Anyway it does not matter. Many of the politicians are busy with the political crisis; no decisions have been made on strategically important projects. So, therefore, there is a delay. But I think it is very important.  In addition we are working on enhancement of relations in the academic field, research field between the Academy of Science here, Oil and Gas University and our institutes in Israel. We think it is very useful. We can also learn from your experience. The last component of this cooperation could be learning from the excellent Azerbaijani experience with the handling the earnings gained from the oil-gas sector, in particular, the activity of the State Oil Fund of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOFAZ).

CE: Which prospects of cooperation have you seen within the framework of the regional cooperation, in particular, in the course of your visits to the regions of the country?

Dan Stav: In the previous answer I referred to two leading sectors in the framework of our bilateral relation which is defense and energy, and obviously, bearing into consideration with the government of Azerbaijan identified other sectors that are crucial for economic diversification here. I think this is also very relevant to our bilateral relations. One of the paramount sectors that is relevant to my visits to these regions is the agricultural sector. I understand that agriculture in Azerbaijan is heavily dependent on 85% small and medium sized businesses, family businesses, and only 15% around by the big holdings. When I speak about agriculture, for example, I speak mostly on the method of using the water. Drip irrigation I think is very relevant in many agricultural sectors. It is not only for vegetables, it can be relevant for cotton growing; it can be relevant for orchards. The big advantage of it is that not only you use the exact amount of water that is optimal for the plants, trees or seedlings, but also you save a lot of water and by saving a lot of water you also contribute to the maintenance of a very healthy environment because water in agriculture sometimes includes some fertilizers and then you have to treat them in order to avoid contamination of water resources. So, the less water you use and the more economically you use it, you save a lot of money, good use of water let’s you improve your environment. So, the irrigation is one issue.

Another point that I want to mention regarding water, in fact, water issue what we call in Israel the water management exceeds the use of water in agriculture, and Israel has a lot of experience in that whether producing of water, desalination which we are one of the leading countries. Water management includes also industrial use of water. You have a big industry of oil, you need also water in some of the processes, and some water that includes some contaminating fluid is there, so all those issues that fall under the water management and I think we can also cooperate in that.

Another sector is the dairy sector. Israel has the state of the art technology. One of the two leading Israeli companies is very active here in a number of districts. Some of the business that they have is follow-up to my visits to the regions.

CE: Which issues will be discussed at the second session of the Azerbaijan-Israel intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation? When will the session take place?


Dan Stav: Regrettably, because of recent development in Israeli politics the whole issue of conducting such important events is delayed for a number of months. I do hope that the second commission will be, if we work hard, we can convene it toward the end of the second half of 2019, if not even at the beginning of 2020. The whole concept of the intergovernmental commission is to identify areas for cooperation, to establish priorities and to streamline the efforts in order not only to speak about but do cooperation. Having said that, we identify the number of sectors which is agriculture, tourism, science, healthcare and others. Addressed at the commission session will also be the developing, both on the state and private level, the relations in the banking sector and in the field of insurance.  

But the detailed plans what to include and what not to include will be decided much closer to the day that the commission is going to be convened. I just want to stress one point. Both governments suppose to establish a very conducive environment for cooperation. But preferably, the cooperation will be done mostly by the private sector.

CE: Do you find Azerbaijan’s economy liberalized enough to enter open markets?


Dan Stav: I know that in the recent years the Azerbaijan government has invested a lot of efforts to liberalize the economy, handled the most difficult obstacles that hamper free trade and flow of investments beside the energy sector.  I know that the Ministry of Taxes launches reforms. The Customs authorities also change a lot, ASAN services that also expedite the process. I don’t speak about the services they give to the ordinary citizens, but also services to companies have improved a lot. However, there are spheres which have to be developed. It involves trade credits provided to companies, and the field of investments. One of the reasons may be the lack of information which can also be bound with the absence of the embassy of Azerbaijan in Israel. All of these components are the subject to work.

CE:Israel is one of the main buyers of Azerbaijani oil. What could you say about the current cooperation of the two countries in the oil-gas field?


 Dan Stav: Purchase of oil is done by the two Israeli companies. It is not done by the government. It is very important for us. We need reliable sources of oil. I think it also validates the importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline which is used and all in all we are very happy that we have considerable part of our oil arriving from a relatively close destination. I mentioned before that we have some other ideas that we would be very willing to discuss in details with our Azerbaijani counterparts. I am not aware of any other cooperation that we have at the moment beside the beginning now that we have started with the Oil and Gas Academy, a kind of an academic cooperation with the Israeli counterparts. It is just at the beginning, but I think, as I have mentioned before, there is a lot of potential.

CE: According to the Israeli media, the economy of Israel is gradually shifting from oil to gas consumption. May it cause the decrease of purchase of Azerbaijani oil?


Dan Stav: Inalreadydeveloped countries there is a tendency because of climate change and environmental issues to reduce the use of oil, and there are technological developments especially in the car sector that may in the future influence the level of consumption of oil. I guess it is all will be no different from that. But I think that at the moment, I don’t think there is a decline in import of oil to Israel. Plans are plans, but implementation takes time.

CE: Azerbaijan has become an important player in the transit transportation market owing to its large projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Kars and North-South. To what extent are these and other transport projects of regional significance attractive for Israel?


Dan Stav: I think that in the last three years we saw very interesting development in transportation networks, especially the East-West Corridor. The completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, in fact, enables Azerbaijan to be a hub between Europe and China, and the recent visit of President Aliyev to China shows that the Chinese are a lot interested in this region and the volume of investments that the Chinese companies are looking it in Azerbaijan shows that Azerbaijan is becoming very fast, a very important center not only for transportation but possibly also for joint projects and joint ventures. From Israeli point of view, if indeed the East-West corridor through Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and eastward to China and Central Asia is going to work smoothly, there are a lot of challenges like the width of the rails, the unification of the customs regulations and plus other obstacles, it can be very interesting for Israel to explore the possibility to export its goods certainly to Central Asia and possibly to China. China in Central Asia, as I said, it depends of course on the economic feasibility of that, if the time consumed is shorter that the sea route and the prices are lower, I think it can be of great importance and great potential for Israel to consider it. So, this is about the East-West corridor.

In addition, we have an interesting Baku international sea trade port in Alyat and especially free trade zone that was established there. At least the legal infrastructure has been completed as far as I know. There are discussions to cooperate with Israeli companies about the concept how to operate the port. So, this is another area of great interest to us.   

CE: The field of tourism occupies a special and usually a major role in economies of many countries. How is this field developing between Israel and Azerbaijan? What else can be undertaken?

Dan Stav: To me the sector of tourism is of tremendous importance. The first obvious advantage we think about is the economic benefits of having more Azerbaijani tourists going to Israel and having more Israeli tourists coming to Azerbaijan. This is one aspect.

The second aspect is the contribution to tourism and from the governmental point of view it is very important for the establishment of strong people-to-people ties. Tourists from Israel come to Azerbaijan, they are very much impressed from Azerbaijan and you can visit their facebook page that Israeli tourists are writing their impressions, and I think that close 100% are very positive remarks about Azerbaijan and about Baku. So, when they go back they become good ambassador of Azerbaijan, they are more open to hear about the development of bilateral relations between the countries, they will show more interest in the development in Azerbaijan and the region. So, I think that is a very positive development. If we speak in 2016, we had 10,000 Israeli tourists; in 2017 it rose to 15,000. Then, thanks to good marketing by AZAL and by Israeli low-cost company «İsrair”, and the launching of more flights from Israel, the number jumped to 40,000 in 2018.

Twin-cities are also playing an important role in our cooperation. There are 4 agreements that have been signed between Azerbaijan and Israeli cities so far: Gabala-Yokneam; Ismayilly-Kiriat-Balik; Shamakhy-Tirat-Karmel; Mingechevir-Afula. There are the Jews, who emigrated from Azerbaijan, living in these cities. Besides, they hold high-ranking positions in some of these cities. For instance, Vice-Mayor of Yokneam Roman Peres played an important role in establishing relations with Gabala. I am sure that he will do his best to turn these ties into a prospering relationship. Apart from this, the mayor of Maalot-Tarshikha city Arkadiy Pomerans who was born in Azerbaijan would like to establish relations with the Azerbaijani cities.

CE: What is it in Azerbaijan that mainly attracts Israeli tourists?

Dan Stav: Most of Israelis, coming to Azerbaijan, hardly know anything about Azerbaijan. Honestly, I mean, we have an Azeri-Jewish community living in Israel. Ok, so, you know that they exist, but some of Azerbaijan was not in the limelight, not in the focus.  Many Israelis come here just to discover Baku. They may find everything absolutely attractive. Baku is so fascinating, you know, the  stores in the streets, the beautiful boulevard, the old city, the “Torgovaya”, flame towers, the alley of martyrs which ends up with the panoramic park from where there is a beautiful view to the city. You may just walk in the streets and enjoy it. I also would like to mention the food, the prices, the hotels, ability to find souvenirs, warm people, great reception, strong sense of security here, and low crime rate, all that attracts a lot of tourists. 

I can add from own personal experience that in the first two years that I was here we hardly had any visitors from Israel, France, while now they come one after the other and it never stops. I think until our last day here we will have guests because more and more people speak now about Azerbaijan, more and more people are aware of Azerbaijan, and some of them, we have a friend living in Azerbaijan and travelling here, say that they want come again because they want to get outside Baku. In outside of Baku the tourism is very advanced because it depends on your interest. If you want ski resorts, if you want mountains, you want heritage, you want to see just picturesque villages,  and you have many of them, my favorite one is Anig in Gusar which is very beautiful. I don’t think anyone had heard about it.  I mean it is not a tourist destination, but it is so beautiful, so amazing. If you want to see the relics of the Albanian kingdom here, which is fascinating, or “Sinagog” Krasnoya Slaboda, or how people are beautifully greeted when they come. They don’t ask “Hey, are you a Muslim? If you are not a Muslim, you are not allowed. They greet everyone, they don’t care what you are, you are always welcome, always with a smile. I think it attracts a lot.

Nakhchivan, for example, I think it is amazing place and I have been there three times and I hope that I will be able to visit it again. 

I can give you many examples, a few months ago I was in Shamakhy and I went to see a village in Ismayilly called Muju. Now, no Jews are living there and the cemetery is in a very bad condition. We are now in discussions with the government to renovate it. And again, the village is small, it is tiny, very traditional. But it is so beautiful, I mean, to see it, and if the cemetery is renovated, it is a part of the heritage of Azerbaijan after all. Lahic which is more famous. The beautiful new road which connects Lahic with Shamakhy, not the old one. I took it in March, it was snow all around. Out of the world there are so many beautiful places to see. I want to mention Kish village. I saw the development and the way the village was renovated. Still it maintains its nature and old character. Very nice places, you also have Lerik in the south, Nakhchivan again, Batabat which is magnificent in summer, you have Sharur. We came there during the sunset which was so magnificent and breath-taking. Noteworthy is Alinja fortress, places abound. I also want to mention a beautifully preserved quarter of German settlers in Goy-Gol, Ganja, Shamkir.


Thank you for the interview

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