Flight data puts spotlight on decade of weapons sales from Israel to Azerbaijan

Newspaper reveals that since 2013, nearly 100 cargo flights operated by Azeri airline have landed at only Israeli airbase where explosives allowed

Illustrative: Then-defense minister Benny Gantz, on a state visit to Azerbaijan, October 3, 2022. (Nicole Laskavi/MOD)
File: Former defense minister Benny Gantz on a state visit to Azerbaijan, October 3, 2022. (Nicole Laskavi/MOD)

Nearly 100 flights from Azerbaijan have landed in a southern Israeli airbase over the past decade, a Monday report in the Haaretz daily showed, shedding new light on the scope of the military relations between the country, given a broader warming of bilateral ties,

Relying on open-source aviation data, Haaretz showed that 92 cargo flights flown by the Azeri Silk Way Airlines have landed at the Ovda military air base in southern Israel since 2016. Nearly 100 such flights have touched down there since 2013. Ovda is the only base from which explosives can be flown out of the country.

The flights began in 2013 when Israel Civil Aviation Authority head Giora Romm signed off on an exemption permit allowing Silk Way planes to ferry weapons shipments that are “classified as dangerous substances banned from flying.” That exemption permit was extended in 2016 and has remained in place ever since, Haaretz noted.

Haaretz identified spikes in weapons shipments in 2016, 2020 and 2021, which corresponded with periods of intensified fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that has been at the center of a decades-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

That conflict led the US and much of Europe to impose sanctions and severe restrictions on military exports to those countries. However, Israel refrained from taking such steps and benefited significantly from the shrinking of competition in the defense export arena.

Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Azeri independence in 1991, and the two have long seen eye to eye on the issue of Iran. Stockholm’s International Peace Institute says Israeli defense exports to Baku began in 2005 with the sale of multiple rocket launching systems developed by Israel Military Industries (IMI Systems). In 2018, IMI was acquired by Elbit Systems, an Israeli defense electronics manufacturer. It went on to sell light artillery rockets to Azerbaijan, which were used to illegally fire cluster bombs at residential areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, Human Rights Watch found.

Haaretz said the purchases from Israeli manufacturers also included intelligence gathering drones, Hermes UAVs, Spike anti-tank missiles, ATMOS self-propelled guns, 120-millimeter Cardom mortars, Hanit mortars, Barak anti-aircraft missiles, Searcher and Heron drones, navy patrol ships, Typhoon gun mounts, Spike missile systems, Lahat antitank guided missiles, Harop kamikaze drones, advanced radar systems and advanced communications equipment.

During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Baku in 2016, he revealed that defense contracts signed between the two countries had exceeded $5 billion.

The Shi’ite-majority country has, in turn, supplied Israel with significant amounts of oil in addition to repoted cooperation against Iran.

Israel reportedly smuggled Iran’s stolen nuclear archive files through Azerbaijan in 2018.

Last year, Baku announced that it would open an embassy in Israel for the first time.

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