Israel turned down Gulf state request to buy attack drones — report

Unnamed country wanted to purchase Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles several years ago; following refusal, it obtained Chinese pilotless aircraft instead, says public broadcaster

An Israeli Air Force drone, Hermes 450 UAV, manufactured by Elbit (photo credit: Elbit via Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash 90)
An Israeli Air Force drone, Hermes 450 UAV, manufactured by Elbit (photo credit: Elbit via Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash 90)

An Arab Gulf state expressed interest in buying Israeli attack drones but after careful consideration by defense officials, the request was declined, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Sunday.

The purchasing country, which was not identified in the report due to military censorship, made the request a few years ago to buy the Hermes 450 drone, an advanced medium-sized long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle produced by Elbit Systems.

Although the Hermes is primarily for reconnaissance and surveillance missions, there is an attack version which can be armed with air-to-surface munitions.

Defense officials mulled the idea “for a prolonged period” before finally turning down the offer, the report said.

The Gulf state then purchased a Chinese drone instead, apparently the CAIG Wing Loong.

The Defense Ministry declined to comment on the Kan report.

Two Gulf states are currently known to be operating the Wing Loong, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Although the drone deal did not go through, it was still seen as an indication of developing ties between Israel and moderate Arab states, the Kan report said.

Israel’s previously clandestine ties with Arab states have recently started coming out into the open.

Last month, the Haaretz daily reported that an Israeli company specializing in cyber espionage tools negotiated a multi-million-dollar deal with Saudi Arabia. The deal involved the sale of the Pegasus 3 software, produced by Herzliya-based NSO Group, a technology that allows governments to hack their citizens’ cellphones, and to listen to calls as well as conversations that take place near the phones. The report did not say if a deal was eventually closed.

In November, Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz visited Oman for a conference, following a secret visit to the Gulf sultanate by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the first in more than 20 years by an Israeli premier.

The visits to Oman followed highly publicized visits late September by Israel’s culture and communications ministers to the United Arab Emirates.

Like the UAE, Oman has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

Israel and the Gulf Arab countries have shared concerns over Iran’s activities in the region, including its nuclear program and its involvement in civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

Normalizing ties with Israel — or recognizing it as a state — remains controversial in the Arab world, which largely boycotts Israel ostensibly over its control of areas Palestinians claim for a future state.

Netanyahu has long sought a rapprochement with Arab states, citing in part concerns over their common enemy Iran. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab states to have full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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