March 5, 2023
92 Flights From Israeli Base Reveal Arms Exports to Azerbaijan
An investigation by Haaretz, based on publicly available aviation data, reveals that over the past seven years, 92 cargo flights flown by Azerbaijani Silk Way Airlines have landed at the Ovda airbase, the only airfield in Israel through which explosives may be flown into and out of the country.
Israel has had a strategic alliance with Azerbaijan for the past two decades, and Israel sells the…country weapons worth billions of dollars – and in return, Azerbaijan, per sources, supplies Israel with oil and access to Iran.
According to foreign media reports, Azerbaijan has allowed the Mossad to set up a forward branch to monitor what is happening in Iran, Azerbaijan’s neighbor to the south, and has even prepared an airfield intended to aid Israel in case it decides to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Reports from two years ago stated that the Mossad agents who stole the Iranian nuclear archive smuggled it to Israel via Azerbaijan. According to official reports from Azerbaijan, over the years Israel has sold it the most advanced weapons systems, including ballistic missiles, air defense and electronic warfare systems, kamikaze drones and more.
[F]igures revealed here for the first time show that since 2016, the company’s IL-76 planes have landed at least 92 times at the Ovda airport…[O]ver the years only a handful of Eastern European airlines that have carried explosives have landed and taken off from there. Silk Way was even at the center of an investigative report in the Czech media in 2018, which stated that weapons banned for sale to Azerbaijan were flown there in spite of the arms embargo – in a circular deal through Israel.
These Silk Way aircraft (and others) have landed at Ovda almost 100 times since the permit was issued. The data expose an increasing pace of flights to Baku especially in the middle of 2016, in late 2020 and at the end of 2021 – which coincide with periods of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh….
[S]anctions provided a business and strategic opportunity for an unexpected partner: Israel. The fact that the two countries both see Iran as a direct threat only strengthened the ties. Azerbaijan declared its independence in October 1991, and Israel – which was one of the first countries to recognize the new nation – opened an embassy in Baku in 1993.
Israel’s world-class defense industry with its relaxed attitude about its customer base is a perfect match for Azerbaijan’s substantial defense needs that are largely left unmet by the United States, Europe and Russia for various reasons tied to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Aptly described by Azerbaijani President Aliyev as being like an iceberg, nine-tenths of it is below the surface….
Azerbaijan’s economy is based primarily on oil and gas, and as part of its strategic alliance it has become Israel’s largest supplier of oil. According to estimates, about half of the oil imported by Israel comes from Azerbaijan.
…Israel has exported a very wide range of weapons to the country – starting with Tavor assault rifles all the way to the most sophisticated systems such as radar, air defense, antitank missiles, ballistic missiles, ships and a wide range of drones, both for intelligence and attack purposes….
Israeli weapons played an important role when the fighting against Armenia restarted in the Four-Day War between the two countries in April 2016, and especially during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, as well as in the battles during 2022. “The skillful use by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan of high technology and high-precision weapons, including those produced in Israel, in particular drones, played an important role in achieving military victory. I am confident that our bilateral ties will be further strengthened and deepened in various fields after the Patriotic War,” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov told the Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview in April 2021.
Israel and Azerbaijan took their relationship up a level in 2011 with a huge $1.6 billion deal that included a battery of Barak missiles for intercepting aircraft and missiles, as well as Searcher and Heron drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It was reported that near the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, a Barak battery shot down an Iskander ballistic missile launched by Armenia.
A project to modernize the Azerbaijani army’s tanks began in the early 2010s. Elbit Systems upgraded and equipped the old Soviet T-72 models with new protective gear to enhance the tanks’ and their crews’ survivability, as well as fast and precise target acquisition and fire control systems. The upgraded tanks, known as Aslan (Lion), starred in the 2013 military parade.
Azerbaijan’s navy was reinforced in 2013 with six patrol ships based on the Israel Navy’s Sa’ar 4.5-class missile boats, produced by Israel Shipyards and carrying the naval version of the Spike missiles, along with six Shaldag MK V patrol boats with Rafael’s Typhoon gun mounts and Spike missile systems. Azerbaijan’s navy also bought 100 Lahat antitank guided missiles.
In 2014, Azerbaijan ordered the first 100 Harop kamikaze drones from IAI, which were a critical tool in later rounds of fighting. Azerbaijan also purchased two advanced radar systems for aerial warning and defense from IAI subsidiary Elta that same year.
Two years later, Azerbaijan bought another 250 SkyStriker kamikaze drones from Elbit Systems. Many videos from the areas of fighting showed Israeli drones attacking Armenian forces.
In 2016, during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Baku, Aliyev revealed that contracts had already been signed between the two countries for the purchase of some $5 billion in “defensive equipment.”
In 2017, Azerbaijan purchased advanced Hermes 900 drones from Elbit Systems and LORA ballistic missiles from IAI, with a range 430 kilometers. In 2018, Aliyev inaugurated the base where the LORA missiles are deployed, at a distance of about 430 kilometers from Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. During the war in 2020, at least one LORA missile was launched, and according to reports it hit a bridge that Armenia used to supply arms and equipment to its forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.
More advanced Spike missiles were sent in 2019 and 2020.