Israeli Company Suspended After Live Suicide Drone Test Against Armenia

Published August 30th, 2017 - 12:10 GMT
According to a report, the company was asked by Azerbaijani officials to test the suicide drone against an Armenian position. (Image of a drone: AFP/File)
According to a report, the company was asked by Azerbaijani officials to test the suicide drone against an Armenian position. (Image of a drone: AFP/File)

The Israeli Defense Ministry has suspended the export license of Israeli firm Aeronautics Defense Systems following an investigation into claims they had been asked by Azerbaijan to carry out a live demonstration of an armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) against an Armenian military position last month.

Aeronautics informed the stock market on Monday night that the Defense Ministry’s Defense Export Controls Agency was suspending the marketing and export permit for the company’s Orbiter 1K model UAV to “a significant customer.”

While not mentioning Azerbaijan, the Central Asian country which borders Iran is one of Aeronautics' most important customers in recent years, as the company opened a factory there in 2011 to build Aerostar and Orbiter UAVs. 

According to Aeronautics the contract for the Orbiter 1K totaled $20 million in the next two years, and freezing of license would mean that the company would be prevented from exporting the drones.

Aeronautics’ Orbiter-K is a loitering suicide drone capable of carrying a special 1 to 2 kilogram special explosive payload. 

The Defense Ministry’s rare move came after the Israeli daily Maariv reported earlier this month that a team belonging to the company were asked to strike an Armenian army position, when they arrived in Azerbaijan to finalize a contract of the sale of its Orbiter 1K UAV.

According to the report the two Israelis operating the UAV refused to hit the position, and senior representatives of the company took control and operated the craft themselves, ultimately missing their targets. 

Hay Zinvor, the official newspaper of Armenia’s Defense Ministry, quoted Colonel Armen Gyozalian, the commander of an army unit stationed in northeastern Karabakh, as saying that while no military hardware was damaged, two of his soldiers were lightly wounded when one of its frontline positions was hit with a suicide drone on July 7th.

Aeronautics strongly denied that the event ever occurred, releasing a statement at the time stating that the company “never performs demonstrations using live fire and that was true in this case as well.”

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."

 


Azerbaijan and Armenia have had a long standing dispute over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and violence has in recent years led to the deaths of dozens of soldiers.  Nagorono-Karabakh is located within Azerbaijan and it internationally recognized as being part of the Central Asian country but a large part of it is governed by separatists who seized control of the mountainous region backed by Yerevan in a war in the 1990s.

Despite a ceasefire signed by the two foes in 1994 the two have never signed a peace treaty. During the last flare up between the two countries last year it was reported that Azerbaijan has used suicide drones against Armenian targets, including a Harop drone made by Israel Aerospace Industries, killing seven Armenian soldiers when it hit a bus they were traveling in.

A year after the violent flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh, a June report by Crisis Group warned that the two countries were “closer to war than at any point since the 1994 ceasefire.” 

The report stated that since the end of the April 2016 escalation, Azerbaijan has increased its spending on weapons, procuring heavy weaponry and other military equipment from countries such as Israel, Russia, Pakistan and Turkey.  

The report also found that there has been significant increases of deadly incidents in the first half of 2017 which coupled with a stalled settlement process “could develop could develop into larger-scale conflict, leading to significant civilian casualties.”

This article has been edited from its original source. 


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