Israeli Embassy opens in Turkmenistan

The move establishes Israel’s closest diplomatic presence to Iran, as part of the campaign to strengthen ties with its arch-foe‘s neighbors.

By Erin Viner

Although the countries established diplomatic relations 30 years ago, there had only been a temporary Israeli mission in Ashgabat until now. The predominantly Muslim Turkmenistan still has no embassy in Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen presided over inauguration of the embassy. His Turkmen counterpart, Raşit Meredow described the embassy inauguration as “a very shining example of our friendship.”

Cohen, whose visit marks the first by an Israeli Foreign Minister in 30 years, also held talks with Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov.

Noting that the “historic” trip and the “upmost strategic importance” of Israel’s ties with Central Asia’s “energy superpower,” Minister Cohen said in a video statement the Jerusalem intends to further “widen economic relations to include agriculture, water, technology and border defense.” He went on to specify that “tightening of our relations is a joint interest of both our countries and we intend to widen the scope of our economic relations also to the agriculture, water, technology and border security sectors.  Without a reason of a doubt, both countries will enjoy from the ongoing cooperation between us.”

Jerusalem’s top diplomat later pointed out in a message on Twitter that the Israeli embassy is just 17 kilometers from Turkmenistan’s border with Iran.

The embassy inauguration is primarily a symbolic move, widely viewed as a message to the Islamic Republic of Israel’s commitment to expand its presence proximal to Iranian territory despite aggressive efforts by Tehran to dissuade acquiescence by such neighboring states.

Turkmenistan, a gas-rich desert nation of six million, maintains an official neutrality policy, avoids membership in any political or military blocs. Its primary economic partner is China, which purchases the bulk of Turkmen gas exports.

Turkmenistan’s trade with Iran is relatively small and the two countries have engaged in disputes over potentially large hydrocarbon deposits in the Caspian Sea.

The five Caspian littoral states are Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Azerbaijan. While the latter four countries signed a convention in 2018 all to resolve such disagreements, Iran’s refusal to ratify the document is holding up Ashgabat’s plans to build a pipeline across the sea to ship gas to Europe.