The Azeri military has been using Israeli-made attack drones during the recent uptick in violence with neighboring Armenia, Hikmet Hajiyev, assistant to the president of Azerbaijan, said in an interview with the Israeli Walla news outlet Wednesday.
Heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh continued for a fourth straight day on Wednesday, in the biggest escalation in years of a decades-old conflict that has killed dozens and left scores of others wounded.
In the interview, Hajiyev said that his country has used Israeli drones, including loitering munitions, or “kamikaze drones,” in the recent round of fighting and lauded their effectiveness.
“Hats off to the engineers who designed it,” Hajiyev said.
He also said that the Azeris “very much appreciate the cooperation with Israel, especially the defense cooperation.”
Israel and Azerbaijan enjoy security and import agreements and it is speculated that Israel supplies 60 percent of the Azeri military’s armaments, while Azerbaijan supplies a large amount of natural fuel to the Jewish state.
Asked if he was disappointed by the silence from Israel regarding the recent fighting, Hajiyev said unequivocally, “No, no, Israel and Azerbaijan understand our situation,” and cited the multiple agreements between the two nations.
Asked about recent sightings of Azeri cargo planes that reportedly landed in Israeli military bases, and if Israel was supplying Azerbaijan with weapons for the current round of fighting, Hajiyev said he didn’t think so and brushed the question off, citing the defense agreements between the two nations, and noting that they are not a secret.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said Armenian forces started shelling the town of Tartar on Wednesday morning, damaging “civilian infrastructure” and wounding people, while Armenian military officials reported that Azerbaijani forces were bombing positions of the Nagorno-Karabakh army in the north of the war-torn region.
Armenian officials alleged that Turkish drones and F-16 fighter jets were being used. Turkey has denied supplying Azerbaijan with arms, and Azerbaijan said it didn’t have any F-16 jets.
The fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh erupted Sunday and has continued despite mounting calls for a ceasefire from around the globe.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian government since 1994, at the end of a separatist war following the breakup of the Soviet Union three years earlier.
The region in the Caucasus Mountains of about 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles), or about the size of the US state of Delaware, is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Armenian border. Soldiers backed by Armenia also occupy some Azerbaijani territory outside the region.
The conflict escalated on Tuesday, with Armenia alleging Turkish involvement and claiming that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down an SU-25 from its air force in Armenian airspace, killing the pilot.
Turkey, which has been vocal about siding with Azerbaijan in the dispute, denied those claims, and so did Azerbaijan.
In the meantime, European officials are seeking to bring the opposing sides to the negotiating table.
French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking on Wednesday at a news conference in Riga, Latvia, called for talks between France, Russia and the United States — the three countries co-chair the Minsk group, set up in 1992 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to resolve the conflict — to mediate.
“I will speak to President (Vladimir) Putin tonight and, I think, President (Donald) Trump tomorrow to discuss and propose an exit strategy” for the crisis, Marcon said.