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Israel Accuses Drone Maker Of Bombing Armenian Soldiers, At Baku's Request


Nagorno-Karabakh -- Smoke from fire rises above the ground in Martakert district, after an Israeli-made Azerbaijani "suicide" drone was shot down by the Karabakh army, 4 April 2016.

Israel has accused an Israeli drone maker of bombing ethnic Armenian soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh at the request of Azerbaijani clients during a sales demonstration, government and local media reported.

The accusation by Israel’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday did not specifically mention Azerbaijan or Nagorno-Karabakh in its statement. But Israeli media said a complaint filed with the Defense Ministry, which promoted an investigation, made it clear that Azerbaijani officials and Armenian soldiers were involved.

The Defense Ministry complaint was leaked to the Maariv newspaper, which first reported the incident in August 2017. It was unclear who exactly filed the complaint.

In its statement on August 29, the Israeli Justice Ministry said it plans to indict the chief executive, deputy CEO, and other officials and employees of Aeronautics Defense Systems for the incident, which it said occurred earlier in 2017.

"Aeronautics and 10 of its employees were informed that they were set to be charged, pending a hearing," the Justice Ministry said, according to The Times of Israel.

The Aeronautics team is suspected of "fraudulently obtaining something under aggravated circumstances," along with violations of Israel's security export control law, the newspaper reported.

In response, the Yavneh-based firm said it is “convinced that after we first present our position at the hearing, the State Prosecutor’s Office will reach an informed decision that there is no reason to put the company or any of its officers in court and will order the case closed.”

An official at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Washington declined to comment to RFE/RL on an Israeli legal proceeding, saying he did not want to interfere in another country’s internal matters.

The Maariv and Times of Israel reports said Aeronautics officials in 2017 were working on a potential $20 million deal with Baku, when Azerbaijani officials asked them to demonstrate their Orbiter 1K armed drone on Armenian soldiers.

The reports said two employees refused to carry out the attack before two higher-ranking executives eventually agreed to do it. They said the drone did not directly hit their targets, but two soldiers were injured in the attack.

Israel suspended Aeronautics' export license after the complaint was filed with the Defense Ministry, the report said.

According to Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army, the Azerbaijani military most recently attacked its frontline positions with a suicide drone on July 7, 2017. The commander of an army unit stationed in northeastern Karabakh said that two of his soldiers were lightly wounded in the incident.

The Azerbaijani army heavily used similar suicide drones manufactured by another Israeli company during the April 2016 hostilities in Karabakh. Baku had bought the Harop drones as part of multimillion-dollar defense contracts signed with Israeli arms manufacturers.

Armenia has long expressed concern at the Israeli-Azerbaijani arms deals, saying that they undermine international efforts to end the Karabakh conflict.

The drone scandal was exposed by the Israeli paper more than two weeks after Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi visited Yerevan in an apparent bid to improve his country’s frosty relationship with Armenia. Hanegbi met with then Prime Minister Karen Karapetian and other senior Armenian officials in late July 2017.

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