Sixty Israeli drones co-produced in Azerbaijan for Baku. Spy satellites next
DEBKAfile Special Report October 25, 2011, 2:20 PM (GMT+02:00)
Azerbaijan's election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council brings to the world body for the next two years a government which has cultivated lively military and economic ties with Israel.
Those ties are constantly challenged by Turkey's military industries, giving Ankara yet another reason to scowl at Jerusalem. Russia, Armenia and Iran also view this collaboration with distrust, especially the rapid arming of the Azerbaijan army with assorted types of Israeli drones co-produced in new factories established in Azerbaijan.
Both Moscow and Tehran are actively looking for ways to torpedo this expanding military partnership.
debkafile's military sources report that within the next two months, the Azerbaijan army will take delivery of 60 drones of two types, the Orbiter 2M, whose altitude ceiling is 4-6 kilometers and can stay in the air up to 5 hours; and Aerostar, which can go as high as 10 kilometers and stay aloft for 12 hours.
Seventy percent of their components are manufactured in Israel, 30 percent in the new Azerbaijan factories.
This collaboration may be just the beginning.
At the end of September, Yavar Jamalov, Azerbaijan's Minister of Defense Industry, talked about building missile-carrying drones. It was the first hint that the two governments had reached terms on joint production of this advanced unmanned aerial craft.
Our sources report he was referring to the Hermes 450 produced by Elbit, having already absorbed the Hermes 450 in his armed forces. According to Western intelligence sources, Jerusalem and Baku are also deep in discussion on the sale of Israeli military spy satellites.
Tehran is worried. debkafile's Iranian sources report that in addition to the radar stations Israel has installed on the Caspian shore with an open eye on Iran, it is about to acquire bases in Azerbaijan for long-range drones able to keep the Islamic Republic's nuclear sites under surveillance.
Turkey, for its part, made an unsuccessful effort to freeze Israel out of the Azerbaijan drone market.
On a recent visit to Baku, the Secretary of Military Industry at the Turkish defense ministry, Murat Bayar, tried to persuade the government to buy its long-range Anka drone instead of the Israeli tactical aerial vehicle. He promised Turkish financing for the construction of a special factory in Azerbaijan.
However, the prototype of the Turkish drone is still under construction and won't be finished until next year. Only then will it starting gaining operational experience. The Azerbaijanis did not say no to the Turkish official but invited him to come back after the finished drone had been put through its paces.
On Sept. 12, an Israel-made and operated drone with Azerbaijan Air Force markings was downed over the Martuni district of Nagorno Karabach, with which Azerbaijan is at war.
The Nagorno Karabakh Ministry of Defense in the capital of Stepanakert said the Azerbaijani drone had been brought down "as a result of ‘special measures’ taken by its antiaircraft units.”
In its Sept. 22 issue 510, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources reporting the incident interpreted those “special measures” as a combination of Russian antiaircraft officers who entered the tiny Caucasian republic from neighboring Armenia and advanced anti-drone equipment owned by Nagorno Karabakh's antiaircraft defense units.
Western sources believe Moscow had the Azerbaijani drone shot down as a one-off incident for four objectives:
1. A hands-off road sign to Israel to stay out of the Caspian Sea region and its conflicts.
Moscow has taken note of Israel's deepening economic and military footholds in four countries: Azerbaijan, which is the largest, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Georgia, and regards its supply of arms to these countries as unwanted interference in Russia's backyard.
2. Revenge for Israel reneging on its 2009 commitment to build a drone factory in Russia. Moscow decided to confront Israeli drone technicians with Russian antiaircraft crews with an unwinnable ambush.
3. Moscow was also telling Tehran that it was serious about cooperating with the Iran to safeguard its rights in the Caspian Sea and willing to use diplomatic, military and intelligence means to halt the spread of Azerbaijani and Israeli influence in the region.
4. The Defense Ministry in Stepanakert published pictures of the downed drone deliberately exposing its camera as a warning to Jerusalem and Baku that if Azerbaijani drones continue to fly, Moscow may turn the drone's wreckage over to Iranian intelligence experts and let them unravel its secrets.