The Cable

Israel Freezes Export of Suicide Drone to Azerbaijan After Allegation of Abuse

Israel’s Defense Ministry is investigating a claim that the drone was illegally used to attack Armenian troops in a test.

Armenian servicemen of the self-defense army of Nagorno-Karabakh fire an artillery shell towards Azeri forces from their positions in the town of Martakert in Armenian-seized Azerbaijani region of Nagorny Karabakh on April 3, 2016.
Clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces rumbled on April 3, despite Baku announcing a ceasefire after the worst outbreak of violence in decades over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region sparked international pressure to stop fighting.  / AFP / PHOTOLURE / Vahram Baghdasaryan        (Photo credit should read VAHRAM BAGHDASARYAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Armenian servicemen of the self-defense army of Nagorno-Karabakh fire an artillery shell towards Azeri forces from their positions in the town of Martakert in Armenian-seized Azerbaijani region of Nagorny Karabakh on April 3, 2016. Clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces rumbled on April 3, despite Baku announcing a ceasefire after the worst outbreak of violence in decades over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region sparked international pressure to stop fighting. / AFP / PHOTOLURE / Vahram Baghdasaryan (Photo credit should read VAHRAM BAGHDASARYAN/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a sales call gone very wrong. At least that’s the allegation being investigated after an Israeli company was accused of attempting to bomb the Armenian military on behalf of Azerbaijan during a test run of a suicide drone.

Now, the Israeli Defense Ministry has frozen the export license of an Israeli arms manufacturer while it looks into the claims.

An Aug. 13 report from the Hebrew-language daily newspaper Maariv revealed that the Israeli Defense Ministry recently received an unusual complaint, detailing claims that a team from Aeronautics Defence Systems was asked to strike an Armenian military position while demonstrating its Orbiter 1K drone in a live-fire test on July 7 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The company was in the middle of finalizing the sale of the suicide drone to Azerbaijan.

The two Israeli drone operators on the trip refused to comply with the request, according to the report, so senior representatives from the company stepped in. They armed and deployed the drone themselves but missed the targets. An Armenian army colonel said two soldiers were lightly wounded in the attack.

The Orbiter 1K is known as a “suicide drone” — a small unmanned aerial vehicle that can carry payloads up to 4.4 pounds and fly directly into an enemy target, detonating a bomb and destroying itself in the process. Azerbaijan has allegedly used the Israeli suicide drones to attack Armenian troops in the past.

 

Aeronautics strongly denied conducting demonstrations against a live target, which is illegal under Israeli law. The Defense Ministry’s investigation is ongoing, but on Monday it suspended of the company’s sales and marketing to Azerbaijan.

The company says it was poised to make $20 million in trade with the country over the next two years. Shares of Aeronautics dipped 17 percent on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange after the company disclosed the freeze.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have long been at loggerheads over the mountainous breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which sits in Azerbaijan but has an ethnic Armenian majority. In the past two years, violent clashes at the border have escalated tensions, and both sides are building up their arms stockpiles.

Azerbaijan and Israel, close allies since the 1990s, frequently cooperate on security matters. Azerbaijan is also one of the main importers of Israeli military equipment.

In 2016, amid intense clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman took a clear side.

“We certainly support the people of Azerbaijan,” he told the Trend news agency, a month before he was named Defense Minister. “Azerbaijani leadership behaves in a balanced manner.”

Azerbaijan shrugged off the allegations against Aeronautics as a calculated fabrication. “Armenian military is desperately spreading false and fake news to justify its illegal occupation of Azerbaijani lands,” a spokesperson for the Azeri Embassy in Washington D.C. said. The Israeli and Armenian embassies did not respond to requests for comment.

Aeronautics, which could not be reached for comment, said in a letter to investors that it believed the license freeze was temporary while the investigation was concluded.

Photo credit: VAHRAM BAGHDASARYAN/AFP/Getty Images

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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