(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Israeli government is embarrassed and fears that a unilateral decision by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel to transfer sensitive technology with US-made components to Russia could damage security ties with the US and Spain.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Israel last week and met with many government officials, including Ariel. Medvedev paid a visit to the Agriculture Ministry’s Volcani Center in Rishon Lezion, where he took a shining to a small drone that was on display.
Despite clear instructions from the Defense Ministry that any transfer of unmanned vehicles to foreign countries requires an export license, Ariel didn’t ask for one, and offered the drone to Medvedev on the spot.
The Russian president gladly accepted the gift and sent two members of his delegation to collect the small helicopter and load it onto his plane.
The Israeli media focused on the cost of the “toy” – NIS 200,000 – and the violation of government procedures that occurred. But The Jerusalem Post
has learned that the transfer was also in violation of Israeli security export instructions and most probably was done without the approval of the manufacturers.
The drone was produced by the Spanish company Alpha Unmanned Systems, and one of its essential components is the thermal camera installed.
The camera is produced by the US giant Flir, which makes most of its cameras for military or dual use. According to the company website, its products require an export license by the US Department of Commerce. It is unlikely that such a license was given to either the Spanish company or Israel to transfer it to Russia, which is under US and NATO sanctions because of its invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula more than two years ago.
In the past, Israel has been reprimanded by the United States for transferring US technology and equipment to China without permission.
All parties involved – Ariel’s office, the Agriculture Ministry, the Volcani Center, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Alpha and Flir companies and the US Embassy – declined to comment. The Defense Ministry said Ariel’s decision “was not coordinated with us.”