Azeri military planes landed in Israel during Armenia fighting — report
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Azeri military planes landed in Israel during Armenia fighting — report

Publicly accessible flight database picked up two readings of Azerbaijani aircraft on the way to Uvda airfield in the Negev

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

An illustrative photo of the Ilyushin 76 cargo plane which reportedly landed in Israel on two occasions in April 2016. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Igor Dvurekov/Wikipedia)
An illustrative photo of the Ilyushin 76 cargo plane which reportedly landed in Israel on two occasions in April 2016. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Igor Dvurekov/Wikipedia)

Two Azerbaijani military planes reportedly landed in Israel earlier this month, at the height of recent violent skirmishes between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the first week of April, a publicly accessible online flight database twice picked up a large cargo plane belonging to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry entering Israeli airspace and flying to the Uvda military airfield in the south of the country, according to the report in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

An Ilyushin 76 cargo plane, flying under the call sign AZAF8 (Azerbaijani Air Force) is said to have arrived in Israel on April 4 and again on April 6, having come from the direction of Turkey. The planes apparently stayed on the ground for two to three hours.

On April 1, an unusually bitter round of fighting reportedly broke out between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, breaking a ceasefire and leaving at least 18 Armenian and 12 Azerbaijani soldiers dead. The Armenians accused the Azerbaijanis of launching an offensive.

Armenian soldiers pose near a frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, April 6, 2016. (Karo Sahakyan/PAN via AP)
Armenian soldiers pose near a frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, April 6, 2016. (Karo Sahakyan/PAN via AP)

The war-torn region is located within, and internationally recognized as, a part of Azerbaijan. Most of it is governed, however, by ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan, who were the majority of the region’s population when Azerbaijan was ruled by the Soviet Union.

Ethnic Armenian separatists seized control of the mountainous region in a war in the early 1990s that claimed some 30,000 lives.

This is not the first time Israel has been accused of helping Azerbaijan in the conflict, but allowing an Azerbaijani military aircraft to land in Israel would represent an upgrade in cooperation between the two countries, which have long maintained cordial ties.

In the same week that the planes are said to have landed in Israel, reports emerged that the Azerbaijani army had used an Israeli-made attack drone to target an Armenian convoy in the region.

An IAI Harop drone. (screen capture: YouTube)
An IAI Harop drone. (screen capture: YouTube)

A press spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry said on his Facebook page that the Azerbaijani army was using the Israeli-made kamikaze Harop drone. The Harop is small enough to be able to skirt enemy aircraft detection systems and can find targets by radar or radio wave, as well as by remote piloting.

Artsrun Hovhannisyan told the state-run Russian agency Ria Novosti that the drone had apparently fixed on a bus full of “Armenian volunteers” and killed seven of them, the Washington Post reported.

Azerbaijan is Israel’s biggest oil supplier, a key recipient of Israeli arms, and a partner in a complicated three-way dance with Iran.

In 2011, the Israeli defense contractor Aeronautics opened a military drone factory in Azerbaijan.

The two countries signed a $1.4 billion defense deal in February 2012 which focused on drones and missile defense systems.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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