Azerbaijan purchased a variety of weaponry, including aerial drones and an advanced anti-missile capable radar, from Israel under a $1.6 bln contract signed in 2011, the APA news agency said on Tuesday, citing data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
According to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, Baku bought an unknown number of Gabriel anti-ship missiles, five Heron and five Searcher UAV’s, a Barak-8 air defense system with 75 missiles, and an EL/M-2080 Green Pine radar. Israel uses Green Pine for its national missile defense system.
Analitika.az website speculated that the purchases could be linked to a cooling in relations with Iran, after ties between Baku and Tehran deteriorated recently.
Last month, police in Azerbaijan said they had arrested an unspecified number of people linked to Iran and to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on suspicion of planning attacks in the country.
Tehran later accused Azerbaijan, which borders Iran and has friendly relations with the United States and Israel, of colluding with Israeli intelligence services in the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in January.
At the end of February, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Tehran Javanshir Akhundov to explain the arms deal with Israel and to provide assurances that the Israeli weaponry would not be used against Iran.
Akhundov reportedly said the weapons were bought “to liberate occupied Azerbaijani land,” most likely hinting at the ongoing conflict with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh which was seized from Azerbaijan by Armenian forces during a war in the 1990s.
Baku and Tehran attempted to soothe building tensions during a visit by Azerbaijan Defense Minister Safar Abiyev to Iran earlier in March when both sides made public assurances of good neighborly relations.
Israel has persistently denied any connection between current tensions in the Persian Gulf and military supplies to Azerbaijan. Israeli experts point out that such transactions take months, or even yearsto complete.