JERUSALEM — The Israeli Defense Ministry is checking reports that Aeronautics Defense Systems firm had been asked by Azerbaijan to carry out a live demonstration of an armed unmanned aerial vehicle against an Armenian military position.
The Israeli daily Maariv reported on Sunday that a team belonging to the Israeli defense company travelled to Azerbaijan over a month ago to finalize a contract for the sale of its Orbiter 1K unmanned aircraft – UAV capable of carrying special explosive payload.
Citing a formal complaint lodged with the ministry, the paper reported that two Israeli drone operators rebuffed Azerbaijani officials’ demand to demonstrate the use of the deadly drone by hitting the Armenian position in an undisclosed area with it. But other, more senior representatives of the company agreed to launch the deadly craft towards the target, the paper said.
One of the operators subsequently resigned from the company in protest, while the other plans to follow suit soon, according to “Maariv.”
The Defense Ministry said that while “as a rule, the Defense Ministry does not make it a practice to comment on issues involving military exports the claim is being examined by the relevant parties at the ministry.”
Aeronautics Defense Systems for their part strongly denied that the event ever occurred telling The Jerusalem Post that “Aeronautics never performs demonstrations using live fire and that was true in this case as well” and that the operation of the craft is carried out by the purchaser and whatever occurs is the purchaser’s responsibility.
According to Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, the Azerbaijani military most recently attacked its frontline positions with a suicide drone on July 7. Colonel Armen Gyozalian, the commander of an army unit stationed in northeastern Karabakh, told the “Hay Zinvor” newspaper earlier this month 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, which left at least 190 soldiers from both sides dead. Baku had gotten hold of them as part of multimillion-dollar defense contracts signed with the Jewish state. It was reported that Azerbaijan had used a Harop drone made by Israel Aerospace Industries killing seven Armenian soldiers when it hit a bus they were traveling in.
Armenian Ambassador Armen Melkonian later delivered a formal protest to Israel over the weapons and Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On demanded that then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon stop the delivery of Israeli drones to Baku until Jerusalem receives a clear commitment that Israeli weapons will not be used against Armenia.
“Armenia and Azerbaijan are both friendly to Israel and it is inconceivable that Israeli weapons be used in a war between the two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh region,” she wrote shortly after the incident with the Harop UAV stressing that “it is Israel’s obligation to ensure that weapons it manufactures do not contribute to igniting the land which is burning anyway, and not to take part in attacks by either side.”
According to a report in the Vestnik Kavkaza news site, Azer Mammadov, senior adviser to Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Minister Yavar Jamalov, said that the use of UAVs by both sides has led Baku to increase its “acquisitions and joint developments from and with Israel.”
The report also quoted Mammadov as saying local manufacturer AZAD is producing the Zarba-1K based on Aeronautics’s Orbiter-K which “due to its very low acoustic signature […] is not detectable until two seconds before diving into the attack.”
Mammadov stated that the testing of the Zarba-1K is expected to be completed within “a few months after which we plan to field 100 of them.”