Israeli Drone Company at Center of Sensitive Investigation Part of Netanyahu's Entourage to India

Aeronautics Defense Systems is at the center of a sensitive criminal probe which became public last November ■ Israel Export Institute, body responsible for invitation list: 'We have no information regarding the investigation'

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Employees clean an Aeronautics Defense Systems Aerostar Tactical drone at an airshow in Farnborough, U.K., July 22, 2010.
Employees clean an Aeronautics Defense Systems Aerostar Tactical drone at an airshow in Farnborough, U.K., July 22, 2010. Credit: Bloomberg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to India on Saturday night for a six-day visit marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The trip comes six months after a visit to Israel by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Netanyahus delegation will include roughly 130 Israeli business executives from about 100 companies operating in the fields of cybersecurity, defense, energy, agriculture and water. The delegation includes senior executives from the drone firm Aeronautics Defense Systems, which is at the center of a sensitive criminal investigation by the international crime unit of the Israel Police.

The investigation became public last November, with the police saying that it was being pursued in connection with a transaction with a substantial client. The disclosure of the investigation followed the partial lifting of a gag order by the Rishon Letzion Magistrates Court.

In August 2017 the Defense Ministry put out an unusual announcement that it would be suspending the sale and export license issued to Aeronautics Defense Systems for the Orbiter 1K drone that the company was producing for a substantial client.

That same month, it was reported that the ministry opened an investigation following a complaint that in demonstrating a kamikaze drone in Azerbaijan, Israeli representatives of Aeronautics Defense were allegedly asked to deploy the drone, armed with explosives, against a manned Armenian army position. The two individuals operating the drone refused the request; ultimately, more senior company officials took control of the aircraft, which missed its target, the complaint states.

The company denied the claim at the time and said that any operational use of the aircraft was only carried out by the buyer of the drone. Aeronautics Defense added that it never carries out demonstrations against live targets and that was the case in this instance.

The Prime Ministers Office refrained from putting together a list of the businesspeople joining the delegation to India over concern over conflicts of interest. The invitation list for the trip was instead set up by the Israel Export Institute, which responded: "The Israel Export Institute works to promote business cooperation for Israeli companies and assists them in forging business connections around the world. The business delegation is accompanying the prime minister's visit to India in the context of the work of the institute and Aeronautics is one of the companies participating. We have no information regarding the investigation being conducted against the company."

Aeronautics Defense Systems declined to comment on the investigation.

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