Iranian university students in the Ardabil Province protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned trip to the Republic of Azerbaijan, December 12, 2016.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is to begin a rare visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan amid media fanfare, but protesters have already taken to the streets to condemn his presence in the Muslim countries.
The two-day tour, which is to begin on Tuesday, is the first by an Israeli prime minister to the region in a quarter century.
Members of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan gathered in front of the country’s Foreign Ministry in Baku on Monday, venting their anger at Netanyahu’s planned visit to their country.
The Times of Israel has billed the trip as a vehicle to “bolster trade, [and] political support” with the two Muslim countries.
Azerbaijan, which supplies 40 percent of Israel’s oil, is a notable trade partner of the regime. Baku has also maintained controversially strong military cooperation with Tel Aviv.
The two sides have previously signed an agreement on the sale of 1.6 billion dollars worth of Israeli drones, anti-aircraft systems, and missiles to the Caucasian country which borders Iran and Russia.
The Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd has announced in the run-up to Netanyahu’s visit that it would build a drone factory in Baku, while reports pointed to the republic’s interest in Israel’s Iron Dome missile system.
The Jerusalem Post has described the bilateral partnership as an “iceberg,” with no more visible part than a tip. “The invisible parts of this ‘iceberg’ are mutual benefits,” it wrote in an opinion piece.
Netanyahu will, however, reportedly spend no more than seven hours in Azerbaijan, after which he will head to Kazakhstan with a reported agenda to discuss the potential provision of military training and technologies for the Asian country.
The trip comes amid considerable criticism, even among the traditional allies, of Tel Aviv’s persistent expansion of illegal settlements on the occupied Palestinian territories.
Azerbaijan shares an extensive border with Iran. On Monday, university students in Iran’s Azeri-speaking Ardabil Province held a rally to condemn the visit and Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians.
The protesters chanted “down with Israel” and denounced the visit as an unwelcome inroad into a Shia Muslim country.