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Israel Sells Drones, Missiles To Azerbaijan

An Israel Hermes 450 drone
An Israel Hermes 450 drone
Israeli defense officials on February 26 confirmed a deal to sell Azerbaijan drones, antiaircraft, and missile defense systems for some $1.6 billion.

Azerbaijan's contract is with the state-run Israel Aerospace Industries. Israeli defense officials, speaking under condition of anonymity, said the deal had been in the works for some time and was not a response to Iran's nuclear development program or recent attempts, allegedly by Iranian agents, to kill Israeli diplomats in India, Thailand, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Israeli media reported late last year that there was a deal for Israel to sell 60 drones of two types to Azerbaijan and that in September 2011 there were discussions about joint Israeli-Azerbaijani construction of drones with missiles.

Also in September 2011, an Israeli-built drone with Azerbaijani Air Force markings was reportedly shot down over the disputed Nagorno-Karabkah enclave claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Iran's Foreign Ministry earlier this month accused Baku of allowing Israel's spy agency Mossad to operate in Azerbaijan, which shares, including the Naxchivan enclave, a border with Iran more than 600 kilometers long.

The news of Israel's sale of the military equipment comes as tensions over Iran's nuclear program are reaching critical levels. A team from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Iran on February 20-21 and returned saying Iran had stepped up work on enriching uranium and that there were serious concerns about "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear program.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about those concerns at a February 26 session of the Israeli cabinet. Netanyahu promised he would raise them in meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama when Netanyahu travels to Washington later this week.

Netanyahu said, "There is no doubt that one topic shall be at the center of our discussions: Iran and the continuing strengthening of its nuclear program." Netanyahu said statements from the IAEA team after their visit to Iran "proves Israel's correct assessments, that Iran is continuing to advance in quick steps in its nuclear program, in defiance and blatantly ignoring decisions taken by the world community."

Iran insists its nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes but some governments, particularly Western governments, dismiss this and point to Iran's unwillingness to fully cooperate with international inspectors. Western countries have imposed a series of sanctions against Iran due to these concerns.

Based on AP and Reuters reporting

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