The Defense Ministry has reinstated the export license of a defense company suspected of testing one of its suicide drones against the Armenian military in violation of Israeli law, allowing it to once again sell the unmanned aircraft.
Defense contractor Aeronautics Ltd. informed the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Tuesday that, “The Defense Ministry announced to the company that the suspension of its license was immediately canceled. The company can continue to supply the UAV to the aforementioned customer as soon as possible.”While the company’s exporting license was reinstated, allowing them to sell the drone to the central Asian country, the export licenses of three senior executives, CEO Amos Matan, deputy CEO Meir Rizmovitch and a third unnamed employee are still suspended.
“This temporary suspension will remain in place until a decision is made to file or not file an indictment against the employees,” Aeronautics said.
Defense contractor Aeronautics Ltd. had its export license suspended by the ministry in 2017 after a The Jerusalem Post’s sister newspaper Maariv reported that a team belonging to the company arrived in Azerbaijan to finalize a contract for the sale of its Orbiter 1K UAV when they were asked to strike the Armenian military position.
According to the report, the two Israelis operating the UAV refused to hit the position and senior representatives of the company took control and operated the craft themselves, ultimately missing their targets.
Following the surfacing of the report, the Defense Ministry suspended the company’s marketing and export permit for the company’s Orbiter 1K model UAV.
According to Aeronautics, which denied any wrongdoing, the contract at the time with Azerbaijan for the Orbiter 1K totaled $20 million, and the freezing of the license meant that the company would be prevented from exporting the drones.
The Orbiter 1K is capable of carrying a one-to-two kilogram explosive payload. Highly transportable, the vehicle-mounted UAV can fly for two-to-three hours carrying a multi-sensor camera with day and night capabilities.
After being launched from a catapult, it can independently scan the area, detect and then destroy a moving or stationary target. In case the target isn’t detected, the system’s recovery capability allows it to return to base and land by using a parachute and airbag.
Aeronautics opened a factory in Azerbaijan to build the company’s Aerostar and Orbiter UAVs in 2011.
The Central Asian country, which borders Iran, has become the main supplier of crude oil to Israel and has become a major recipient of Israeli military hardware in recent years, with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute placing Azerbaijan as the third largest consumer of Israeli arms, having bought $137m. worth of weaponry in 2017.
In 2016, during a flare-up of violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, it was reported that Baku used suicide drones against Armenian targets, including targeting a bus by an Israeli-made Harop drone that killed seven soldiers.
Located within Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as being part of the Central Asian country but a large part of it is governed by separatists who seized control of the mountainous region backed by Azerbaijan in a war in the 1990s.
Despite a ceasefire signed by the two foes in 1994, the sides have never signed a peace treaty and the long standing dispute over the enclave has in recent years led to the deaths of dozens of soldiers.