The Israeli news daily Haaretz reports that the local Aeronautics company and three senior employees were charged on December 29 with violating the law on the export of defense products during a deal with a significant client.
Although an Israeli court ruled that the details should not be made public, this company is one of the main arms suppliers of Azerbaijan.
Haaretz writes that an investigation has been underway into the Aeronautics company. In 2018, the Israeli Ministry of Justice announced that the prosecutor's office intended to charge the company's employees with fraud and violating the law on the export of defense products.
The basis of all this is an incident that took place in 2017. In August of that year, the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced that it was suspending the export license of one of Aeronautics’ war drones to a large foreign buyer. The Israeli police then launched an investigation. That same month, it was revealed that the security agency of the Israeli Ministry of Defense had launched an investigation into a complaint stating that Aeronautics representatives had tested a suicide (kamikaze) drone in Azerbaijan by attacking Armenian army positions.
We are talking about the Orbiter 1K drone manufactured by Aeronautics. In 2017, the Israeli press reported that the Azerbaijanis, who bought these weapons, suggested to Israeli specialists that the new UAV be tested on positions of the Artsakh Defense Army. Although the operators refused, the leadership of the Israeli delegation did so, resulting in the slight injury of two Armenian servicemen.
At the time the supplier company denied the accusations and stated that the operative user of the UAV was the buyer, adding that it never tests on live targets.
However, as we see from the actions of Israeli law enforcement, the statements of Aeronautics were false. It’s assumed that the heads of the delegation that used the suicide drone on Artsakh Defense Army positions are the accused in the criminal case. It is also interesting that the accusation was made 4.5 years after the 2017 incident.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), known for its research and statistics on arms sales, Azerbaijan purchased 60.1% of its arms (in terms of value) from Russia between 2011 and 2020. Other major suppliers were Israel (26.6%), Belarus (7.1%) and Turkey (2.9%).
Most of the Israeli arms exports to Azerbaijan occurred between 2016 and 2020. During that time, the amount spent on Israeli weapons accounted for 69% of the Aliyev regime's military imports.
In a study published in April of this year, SIPRI wrote that although there is ample public information about Azerbaijan's acquisition of specific Israeli weapons, little is known about the actual number of weapons delivered. However, it is known that Israel mainly sells loitering munition (we are talking about suicide UAVs, which fly for some time, search, target and then attack), reconnaissance UAVs, guided and ballistic missiles, which were used in 2020 and before that.
According to SIPRI, in 2007-2008, Azerbaijan ordered 4 Aerostar and 10 Hermes-450 reconnaissance UAVs from Israel. The former is manufactured by Aeronautics, and the latter by another well-known Israeli manufacturer, Elbit Systems. In 2009 Aeronautics and Azerbaijan signed an agreement to build a UAV plant in Azerbaijan. In March 2011, a company called AZAD Systems was opened and started producing of the Orbiter 2M and Aerostar UAVs. Later, the company began production of the Orbiter 3 reconnaissance UAV and the local version of the suicide Orbiter 1K drone called "Zerbe".
Hetq has written about other Israeli-made UAVs in the past and will not write about them again, but the fact is that they, like the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones, have played a crucial role in shifting the military balance in recent years in Azerbaijan’s favor.
Israel has supplied arms to Azerbaijan not only before the 2020 Artsakh war, but also during it. Last year, Hetq wrote about numerous cargo and passenger flights from Turkey, Israel, Libya, Afghanistan
and Ukraine to Azerbaijan, most of which were made via Georgian airspace (a series of articles can be found here). Adviser to the President of Azerbaijan, the infamous Hikmet Hajiyev, told an Israeli journalist in the early days of the war that the country's technology was helping Azerbaijan ensure the security of its citizens, and that Israeli engineers should be congratulated.
It should be noted that during the 2016 “Four-Day War”, when Azerbaijan was using Israeli-made reconnaissance and kamikaze UAVs, Hetq’s chief editor learned from informed sources in Artsakh that the operation of Azerbaijani UAVs was largely ensured by Israeli specialists. During the 2020 Artsakh war, the Armenian side mentioned that Turkish specialists basically operated the Bayraktar TB2 drones.
It seems that it's no accident that charges against the Aeronautics company were launched 4.5 years after the 2017 incident. Shortly before this news, on December 28, Arman Hakobyan was appointed Armenia’s new Ambassador to Israel. Naturally, the appointment of an ambassador does not happen in one day․ This process requires some time, including the consent of the host party.
It should be reminded that in August 2020, before Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh, Armenia’s embassy in Tel Aviv opened its doors. Prior to this, the Armenia’s Ambassador to Israel worked from Yerevan. To date, the residence of the Israeli Ambassador to Armenia is still located in Jerusalem, in the building housing the Israeli Foreign Ministry. On October 1, 2020, when the war in Artsakh was in full swing and the role of Israel supporting Azerbaijan was obvious, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry recalled its ambassador from Israel, Armen Smbatyan, for consultations. In August of this year, Smbatyan, who was appointed in March 2018, was fired from the post of ambassador. Armenia appointed a new ambassador to Israel four months later.
It can’t be ruled out that the appointment of a new Armenian Ambassador to Israel two days ago, and Israel’s above-mentioned action in the Aeronautics criminal case, are indirectly related.
Have Armenia and Israel started a process to mend relations?
Readers will recollect that in 2012 Armenia severed diplomatic relations with Hungary after that country extradited Ramil Safarov, who murdered Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan and was subsequently sentenced to life, back to Azerbaijan. Safarov was welcomed as a national hero and immediately pardoned.
On December 29, the Armenia Foreign Ministry reported that Azerbaijan had returned five Armenian POWs via Hungary. On December 30, the Armenia Ministry of Health announced that Hungary had donated 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine
Are Yerevan and Budapest mending their ties as well?
While it appears that the Armenia government has started the process of normalizing relations with Israel and Hungary, much is happening behind the scenes, out of public view. The rumors and uncertainty surrounding upcoming Armenia-Turkey peace talks are a prime example of the extent of back-room diplomacy.