Israel pours gasoline on the fire in Nagorno-Karabakh

October 4, 2020 - 12:31

TEHRAN – As the war rages on for the eighth straight day between Azerbaijan and Armenia, more attention has been paid to Israel’s role in the conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, with some news media reports suggesting that Israel is militarily siding with Azerbaijan. 

The war began on September 27 when Azerbaijani and Armenian forces exchanged fire along the lines of contact on their borders. The two sides used heavy weapons such as rockets and mortar shells thereafter, in the biggest escalation in the decades-long conflict over the volatile Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but controlled by the local Armenian forces who are backed by Armenia. 

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the Soviet era when Azerbaijan and Armenia both were parts of the Soviet Union. However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan and Armenia, the two newly-established states, both sought to extend their sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Since the early years of the 1990s, they have fought deadly wars which ended in Azerbaijan losing large swaths of its territories. The conflict has never been settled. There were clashes from time to time but all failed to change the situation. 

The ongoing clashes were the latest in a series of clashes that have continued over the past years without leading to major change on the ground. Now, it seems that Azerbaijan, backed by some regional players, seeks to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict once and for all. 

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said that the war will end only when Armenia leaves Azerbaijani territory, which means returning the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Azerbaijan.  

“We still keep our position unchanged. What I am demanding is absolutely in line with international law, because the whole world recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and no country in the world recognizes the so-called ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’. What I am saying is completely almost the wording of the UN Security Council Resolutions. And they need to leave our territory, and then, the war will stop, and then the conflict will come to an end. And then, maybe some time later people of Azerbaijan and Armenia can again live together, in peace. So, that’s our position, and it is unchanged,” Aliyev said in an interview with Al Jazeera TV, according to the Trend news agency. 

Whether Azerbaijan would succeed in retaking the disputed region is something that we should wait and see, but Azerbaijan seems to be counting on its allies in terms of supplying it with game-changing weapons such as combat drones and precision-guided missiles. 

The drones have played a crucial role in Azerbaijan’s military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh. Over the past week, the defense ministry of Azerbaijan has published videos showing how Azerbaijani forces used advanced combat drones to target Armenian forces’ positions in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Israeli news media outlets and journalists said these drones and other weapons were imported from Israel from which 60% of Azerbaijan arms procurement comes. 

In an interview with the Hebrew-language Walla News outlet, Hikmet Hajiyev, the foreign policy adviser to the president of Azerbaijan, publicly said that Azeri forces were using Israeli-made drones in military operations against Armenia, according to the Israeli news website I24News.

“If the Armenians are afraid of these drones they should stop the occupation,” Hajiyev was quoted as saying, referring to the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

“We appreciate very much the cooperation with Israel - especially the security cooperation,” the president advisor noted. “The goal is to strengthen the defensive capabilities of Azerbaijan. We are in a state of defense and this technology allows Azerbaijan the ability to protect the security of its citizens.”

American news website Axios also reported that Hajiyev confirmed that Azerbaijan is using Israeli Harop drones. The advisor praised the Israeli drones, saying they have “proved themselves very effective” in the fighting over the last few days.

Axios also reported that an “air train” of cargo planes affiliated with the Azeri ministry of defense departed for Israel, days after they were used in the fighting in the disputed region. According to flight radar apps, the cargo planes stopped at Ovda airbase in southern Israel before departing for Azerbaijan.

Israel and Azerbaijan have very close ties. Israel is the main supplier of arms to Azerbaijan, while a large portion of Israel's oil supply – about 40% of its oil needs- comes from Azerbaijan, according to Axios. 

Israeli officials refuse to publicly side with Azerbaijan, but Israeli media has sought to focus on the Israeli weapons being used in the Azerbaijan-Armenia war. 

“A video shared from the clashes between Armenian and Azeri forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region shows Azerbaijani forces using an Israeli "LORA" missile to shell a bridge in Armenia,” said the Jerusalem Post. The paper added, “A truck is seen in the video approaching a bridge on the Armenian side of the conflict zone when a missile suddenly strikes and levels the bridge. LORA (Long Range Attack) is a theater quasiballistic missile made by the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It can be launched from a ship or by land. With an operational range of 400 km (250 miles), it is accurate in hitting targets within ten minutes after launch. Azerbaijan was the first and only confirmed country to which Israel delivered LORA missiles – in an arms deal that took place in 2018.”

It also said President Aliyev revealed in 2016 that his country signed $5 billion worth of long-term contracts over the years to buy weapons and security equipment from Israel.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has estimated that 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.

Israel's military support to Azerbaijan has enraged Armenia, which established diplomatic ties with Israel only recently. On Thursday, Armenia recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations over the arms trade between Azerbaijan and Israel.

“Israel’s workstyle is unacceptable. The ministry has to call back its ambassador in Israel,” said Armenian foreign ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan. 

Israel’s arms trade with Azerbaijan once again highlights the danger of Israel’s military arsenal, including its weapons of mass destruction, which could be used in conflicts thousands of miles away from Israel regardless of their humanitarian implications. Israel is the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the Western Asia region.

Many countries in the region have called for nuclear disarmament of Israel, given its status as the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the region.

At the virtual meeting of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on Friday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on the international community to compel Israel to destroy its nuclear weapons. 

“Given its six decades of deception and clandestine development of nuclear weapons, it (Israel) must be compelled to submit to the most intrusive inspection regime that law-abiding members of the NPT observe,” Zarif said.

Israel is not a signatory to Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and it never allowed international inspectors to inspect its nuclear facilities. It also stubbornly refuses to confirm whether it does have nuclear weapons or not. But it is widely believed to possess about 200 nuclear warheads, making it the only regime in West Asia that possesses weapons of mass destruction.


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