Armenia Recalls Israel Ambassador Over Arms Sales to Azerbaijan

An Israeli-made drone can be seen in video footage published by Azerbaijan of its strikes against Armenian targets in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, where dozens have been reported killed within a week

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Screenshot from video showing Israeli Orbiter 1K.
Screenshot from video showing Israeli Orbiter 1K.Credit: The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry

Armenia said on Thursday it had recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations over Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has acknowledged using Israeli-made weapons in its fighting with ethnic Armenian forces around Nagorno-Karabakh, where heavy clashes this week have drawn international calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Protesting against the Israeli weapons exports amid the heaviest clashes since the 1990s around Nagorno-Karabakh – part of Azerbaijan, but run by its mostly ethnic Armenian inhabitants – Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan said "Israel's workstyle is unacceptable. The ministry has to call back its ambassador in Israel."

Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement it regrets the Armenian decision, stressting that "Israel values our partnership with Armenia."

Asked for details on weapons sales to Azerbaijan, an Israeli Defense Ministry spokeswoman declined comment.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a leading conflict and armaments think-tank, Israel provided Azerbaijan with some $825 million in weapons between 2006 and 2019.

Those exports included drones, loitering munitions, anti-tank missiles, and a surface-to-air missile system, information from SIPRI's Arms Transfers Database showed.

The Israeli-made Orbiter 1K drone can be seen at 00:41Credit: The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry

Israel and Azerbaijan have a strategic alliance going back many years. A major energy producer, Azerbaijan exports oil to Israel and imports weapons and military hardware.

The fact that Azerbaijan is a secular Muslim republic, along with its geographical proximity to Iran, makes it very important to Israel.

Two Azerbaijani Ilyushin Il-76 cargo planes landed at the Israeli Air Force's Uvda base in the Negev last week, days before a major escalation in the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia around the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, suggesting both the preparation and replenishing of Azerbaijani forces for the latest bout of fighting. Two more planes landed in Israel since the fighting began.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry published over the past week dozens of video footage of its strikes against Armenian targets. In one of the videos, released on Thursday, an Israeli-made Orbiter 1K self-detonating drone can be seen clearly.

The Israeli government has refrained from making any statements on the situation in the South Caucasus, and officially isn’t taking sides, despite having diplomatic relations with Armenia, which opened its embassy in Tel Aviv only two weeks ago.

Separately, in a video interview with Israel's Walla news website on Wednesday, Azeri presidential aide Hikmat Hajayev said Azerbaijan was using "some" Israeli-made drones in fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh, without specifying how many.

A man shows a shell fragment during fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, in the disputed region's city of Martuni on October 1, 2020.
A man shows a shell fragment during fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, in the disputed region's city of Martuni on October 1, 2020.Credit: AFP

"(We) have one of the strongest (drone) fleets in the region. And among them we have Israeli ones, we have other drones as well, but Israeli drones especially, including reconnaissance and attack drones, and kamikaze 'Harop' drones, (which) have proved itself very effective," Hajayev said.

Dozens of people have been reported killed and hundreds wounded since Sunday in fighting that has renewed concern about stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.

Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in a 1991-94 war that killed 30,000 people, but is not recognized internationally as an independent republic.

Azerbaijan's civilian death toll has risen to 19, with 55 wounded, its prosecutor general's office said. Azerbaijan has not reported on casualties among its military forces.

Nagorno-Karabakh has said 103 of its servicemen have been killed and more than 200 wounded but has given no figures on civilian casualties.

Armenia said two French nationals working for France's Le Monde newspaper had been wounded during Azeri shelling of the town of Martuni in Nagorno-Karabakh, clarifying earlier confusion over the location of the incident.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region's foreign ministry said the two journalists had been operated on by local doctors. An Armenian government source said they were in critical condition and had been transported to the Armenian capital Yerevan.

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