TEL AVIV (RFE/RL) — Israel’s Defense Ministry has reportedly halted exports of “suicide” drones manufactured by an Israeli company that was accused earlier this month of using them against an Armenian army position at the request of Azerbaijan.
In a statement cited by the Newsru.co.il news service, the company, Aeronautics Defense Systems (ADS), said late on Monday that the ministry’s export control agency has at least temporarily banned it from delivering a batch of Orbiter 1K drones to a key foreign client. The statement said ADS was due to supply $20 million worth of such unmanned aircraft, capable of carrying special explosive payload, to the client in 2017-2018.
The ADS statement did not specify the buyer of the sophisticated weapon, saying only that Israel has close commercial ties with that country. It also attributed the ban to an ongoing inquiry conducted by the Israeli security agency.
The Israeli newspaper “Maariv” reported on August 13 that the agency launched an investigation after receiving a formal complaint stemming from ADS’s commercial dealings with the Azerbaijani government. It said ADS representatives traveled to Azerbaijan earlier this summer to finalize a contract for the sale of Orbiter drones to the Azerbaijani military.
The paper claimed that two Israeli drone operators working for the defense company rebuffed Azerbaijani officials’ demand to demonstrate the use of the deadly drone by hitting the Armenian position with it. But other, more senior ADS executives agreed to launch the deadly craft on the target, according to “Maariv.”
ADS denied the report, saying that “the operational action was carried out by the purchaser alone.”
According to Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, the Azerbaijani military most recently attacked its frontline positions with a suicide drone on July 7. The commander of an army unit stationed in northeastern Karabakh said in early August that two of his soldiers were lightly wounded in the incident. No Armenian military hardware was damaged in that drone attack, he said.
The Azerbaijani army heavily used similar suicide drones manufactured by another Israeli company, Israel Aerospace Industries, during the April 2016 hostilities in Karabakh. Baku had received them as part of multimillion-dollar defense contracts signed with Israeli arms manufacturers.
The Israeli weapons sold to Azerbaijan have included not only various types of unmanned aircraft but also air-defense systems and anti-tank rockets.
Armenia has long expressed concern at the Israeli-Azerbaijani arms deals, saying that they undermine international efforts to end the Karabakh conflict. Still, its reaction to the “Maariv” report was rather cautious.