Israel launches criminal investigation into dronemaker suspected of bombing Armenian military posts

The Police of Israel launched a criminal investigation against an Israeli drone manufacturer that allegedly attempted to bomb the Armenian military on behalf of Azerbaijan during a demonstration of one of unmanned aerial vehicles earlier this year, The Times of Israel reports.

The Police statement says: “An investigation is ongoing against Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. in regards to a deal with a significant customer”.

The Israel Police’s Unit of International Crime Investigations, known in Hebrew by its acronym Yahbal, is leading the investigation. News of the investigation came out on Monday as an Israeli court approved a gag order for the case, limiting the information that can be published about it. For instance, police would not identify the “significant customer.”

Aeronautics Defense Systems said in a statement that they are ready to “fully cooperate with any examination on any issue and to do the best of their capabilities so the investigation will be as swift as possible”.

In late August, the Defense Ministry Defense Export Controls Agency halted Aeronautics’ export license for its Orbiter 1K model UAV to a “significant customer”.

According to Aeronautics, the company was poised to make a NIS 71.5 million ($20 million) deal over the next two years with the “significant customer”. The company noted that the Defense Ministry’s decision only affected the sale of its drone to the “significant customer” and not to other foreign buyers.

The Times of Israel writes that as a rule, Israeli defense contractors refrain from naming their customers directly. However, it could be understood from the statement that the country in question was Azerbaijan.

The decision to halt the sale came approximately two weeks after a complaint was filed with the ministry saying that the company had, at the request of the Azerbaijanis, launched one of its Orbiter 1K model drones at Armenian forces in Nagorno Karabakh.

Two Armenian soldiers were wounded during the attack of July 7.

A copy of the complaint was first leaked to the Maariv newspaper. According to the report, the firm sent a team to the Azerbaijan capital Baku to demonstrate the unmanned aerial vehicle, which can be outfitted with a small explosive payload, 2.2 to 4.4 pounds (one to two kilograms), and flown into an enemy target on a “suicide” mission.

According to the complaint, while demonstrating the Orbiter 1K system to the Azerbaijani military sometime last month, the company was asked to carry out a live-fire test of the system against an Armenian military position. Such a test would be illegal under Israeli law, as it would require a seldom-granted permit to carry out demonstrations against real targets.

“In this case, Aeronautics Defense Systems would be even less likely to receive such a permit, as Israel does not consider Armenia to be an enemy state”, The Times of Israel writes.

Maariv reported that the two Israelis operating the two Orbiter 1K drones during the test refused to carry out the attack, despite threats from their superiors.Two higher-ranking members of the Aeronautics Defense Systems delegation in Baku then attempted to carry out the Azerbaijani request, but, lacking the necessary experience, did not directly hit their targets, according to the report.

The Israeli Defense Ministry said they are investigating the case, but would not discuss it further.

The Times of Israel recalled that in 2016 Azerbaijan used another Israeli suicide drone, an Israeli Aerospace Industries Haropmodel, in an attack on a bus that killed seven Armenians.



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