By Joshua Kucera
Officials from an Israeli arms manufacturer fired two drone missiles from Azerbaijan into Armenian-held territory, according to a complaint under investigation by the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
According to the allegations — which have been denied by the company, Aeronautics Defense Systems — the episode occured a little more than a month ago. Company officials were in Azerbaijan to promote their “suicide drone,” the Orbiter-1K, and Azerbaijani officials asked for a sort of live demonstration, to launch the drone into Armenian territory.
The drone operators refused, but then company officials armed and launched the drones themselves, according to the complaint. Both are said to have missed their targets and caused no damage. The company has said that it is against their policy to demonstrate their arms using live fire.
Israel is one of Azerbaijan’s key foreign partners, and has provided Baku with some of its most sophisticated weaponry, including a reconnaissance version of the Orbiter. That drone is produced in Azerbaijan by an Azerbaijani-Israeli joint venture, Azad. Azerbaijan’s Israeli weapons, in particular drones, were used to significant effect in last year’s heavy fighting with Armenia.
Azad also has already been producing a suicide drone called Zerbe, apparently modeled on the Orbiter 1K. At an arms expo in Baku last year, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov said the Zerbes “have become a nightmare for the Armenian army.”
So it’s not clear why Israeli officials were on an apparent sales mission to Azerbaijan to show off the Oribiter 1K.
On July 7, the de facto military of Nagorno Karabakh reported that an Azerbaijani suicide drone hit close to an Armenian position near the line of contact between the two sides, injuring two Armenian soldiers. That attack would fit the timeline alleged in the Israeli complaint.
Later in July, a senior Israeli official made a rare visit to Armenia, and there have been signs that the Israeli government’s strong support of Azerbaijan may be wavering.
One Azerbaijani military analyst, Ramil Mamadli, said the new report was false. “This kind of disinformation aims to damage Azerbaijan-Israel military-technical relations. Behind this disinformation is either the competition between companies or the activity of the Armenian diaspora in Israel,” he told the website big.az. Azerbaijan’s government has yet to officially comment on the report.