On Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen inaugurated a permanent embassy in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, marking a historic move to establish Israel’s closest diplomatic presence to Iran. The two countries had established diplomatic relations 30 years ago, but Israel had only maintained a temporary mission in Ashgabat, while Turkmenistan did not have an embassy in Israel.
Cohen, who arrived in Turkmenistan to open the embassy located just 17 kilometers from the Iranian border, tweeted about his visit and his intention to hold meetings with the president and other officials. His Turkmen counterpart, Rashid Meredov, described the embassy inauguration as “a very shining example of our friendship” in remarks to Israeli reporters.
During his visit, Cohen also met with Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov and emphasized the strategic importance of Israel’s ties with Central Asia’s “energy superpower.” Cohen stated that Israel intended to expand economic relations with Turkmenistan, particularly in the areas of agriculture, water, technology, and border defense. He expressed confidence that both countries would benefit from closer cooperation, as stated in a video issued by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Turkmenistan, a gas-rich desert nation with a population of six million, maintains an official neutrality policy and avoids membership in any political or military blocs. Its main economic partner is China, which buys the majority of Turkmen gas exports. Although Turkmenistan has relatively small trade with Iran, the two countries have had disputes over potential hydrocarbon deposits in the Caspian Sea.
In 2018, all five Caspian littoral states signed a convention to settle such disputes, but Iran has yet to ratify the document, which has also delayed Ashgabat’s plans to build a pipeline across the sea for gas exports to Europe. Cohen’s visit and the establishment of a permanent embassy in Turkmenistan indicate Israel’s efforts to strengthen ties with Iran’s neighbors and expand its diplomatic presence in the region.