An Israeli drone manufacturer attempted to bomb the Armenian military on behalf of Azerbaijan during a demonstration of one of its “suicide” unmanned aerial vehicles last month, according to a complaint filed with the Defense Ministry.
A copy of the complaint filed against Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. with the ministry’s Defense Export Controls Agency was leaked to the Maariv newspaper, which published the details on Sunday.
The Defense Ministry confirmed that it was investigating the issue, but would not discuss the case further.
“As a rule, the Defense Ministry does not comment on issues concerning defense exports. The allegation is being investigated by relevant figures in the ministry,” a spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday.
According to the report, the firm sent a team to the Azerbaijan capital Baku to demonstrate its Orbiter 1K unmanned aerial vehicle, which can be outfitted with a small explosive payload, 2.2 to 4.4 pounds (one to two kilograms), and flown into an enemy target on a “suicide” mission.
According to the complaint, while demonstrating the Orbiter 1K system to the Azerbaijani military sometime last month, the company was asked to carry out a live fire test of the system against an Armenian military position. The two countries have been been fighting a sporadic conflict for nearly 25 years, which has ramped up over the last 16 months over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Such a test would be illegal under Israeli law, as companies require a seldom-granted permit allowing them to carry out demonstrations against real targets. In this case, Aeronautics Defense Systems would be even less likely to receive such a permit, as Israel does not consider Armenia to be an enemy state.
The two Israelis operating the two Orbiter 1K drones during the test refused to carry out the attack, despite threats from their superiors, Maariv reported.
Two higher ranking members of the Aeronautics Defense Systems delegation in Baku then attempted to carry out the Azerbaijani request, but, lacking the necessary experience, ended up missing their targets, according to the report. No injuries or damage were caused.
The company denied the assertion, saying it “has never carried out a demonstration against live targets, including in this case.”
The company said it sold its wares to some 50 countries with the permission of the Defense Export Controls Agency.
“Operational actions are carried out by the purchaser alone and on its responsibility,” the company’s statement said.
Aeronautics Defense Systems, which specializes in UAV technology, also manufactures drones similar to the Orbiter 1K, but that lack its attack capabilities and can only be used for reconnaissance. Azad Systems, a subsidiary of Aeronautics Defense Systems that is run by the Azerbaijani defense ministry, currently manufactures at least two models of the Orbiter platform. Azerbaijani news outlets have also reported that the country has its own Orbiter suicide drones as well.
Last year, Azerbaijan used another Israeli suicide drone, an Israeli Aerospace Industries Harop-model, in an attack on a bus that killed seven Armenians.
Azerbaijan is one of the largest importers of Israeli military equipment and is seen as an important ally to the Jewish state, given the fact that it shares a border with Israel’s nemesis, Iran. Last year, the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, revealed Azerbaijan had purchased some $5 billion worth of weapons and defense systems from Israel.
In 2012, Foreign Policy reported that Israel had reached an arrangement with Azerbaijan allowing it to potentially fly sorties out of the country.
“The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior US administration official told Foreign Policy at the time, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”
Israel has come under internal criticism for its cooperation with Azerbaijan over the country’s reported human rights violations, despite it being one of the few majority Muslim countries with which Israel enjoys an openly positive relationship.
Last month, Azerbaijan sentenced an Israeli blogger, Alexander Lapshin, to three years in prison for traveling to the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the country, which is controlled by Armenian separatists, and for insulting Azerbaijani President Aliyev.
Lapshin’s attorny said his client met with an Israeli official and is hoping to be extradited to the Jewish state.