Diplomatic Snafu: U.S. Asks Israel for Clarifications on Drone Gifted to Russia

The UAV was equipped with an advanced American-made camera, which Israel may not have been at liberty to give to the Russians who are subject to U.S. sanctions.

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Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel thought this price drone would be a nice going-away present for visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel thought this price drone would be a nice going-away present for visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.Credit: Yossi Aloni

The United States has asked Israel for clarification about the drone that Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel gave to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as a gift during the latter’s visit to Israel last week.

A senior official in Jerusalem, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the Americans wanted to know whether the drone contained American technology.

The “drone affair” has caused Israel significant diplomatic embarrassment with the Americans, the official said. U.S. embassy diplomats have asked for details of the gift from the defense ministry, the foreign ministry and the national security agency in the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to an investigation by the Americans, the drone, which is intended for agricultural use, has an American-made camera. Such technology is usually used by Israel under license and cannot be transferred to a third party without permission.

In addition, Russia is under U.S. sanctions due to its actions in Ukraine, and is forbidden from receiving advanced civilian technology that could have dual (military and/or civilian) use.

According to the initial response given to the Americans, the camera was removed from the drone before it was handed over to the Russians. Nevertheless, the Defense Ministry is continuing its investigation to ensure that there were no other American components on the drone.

The defense ministry is expected to provide its full response to the U.S. embassy within the next few days.

The transfer or sale of all drones and unmanned aircraft are under the supervision of Israeli state agencies. As a civilian product, the craft given to Medvedev should have been under the supervision of the Economy Ministry, which was obliged to coordinate with the Defense Ministry’s export control department.

The Defense Ministry apparently was not even aware of the gift to the Russian prime minister and it did not receive the requisite permits.

“The move was never coordinated with us,” the Defense Ministry said.

The approval process for the export of military materiel is relatively complicated. The Defense Ministry examines export requests for several weeks and solicits input about the diplomatic implications of the sale.

The Economy Ministry takes about a week to assess such a request, which includes getting the input of the Foreign Ministry. The latter’s current policy is to avoid the export of dual-purpose equipment to Russia.

It can be assumed that a civilian company requesting to export the drone would have been refused permission by the government ministries. Exporting without the requisite permits would have made it liable for a fine of up to 1 million shekels ($286,000).

Last week during his visit at the Volcani Center, Medvedev entertained himself by flying a Spanish-made drone used by the Institute for Thermal Imaging. The camera on the drone is American-made. The price of the UAV is about 200 thousand shekels.

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