Azer-Indian dilemma of Israeli arms export deals

By Arie Egozi

The renewed tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have created a very sensitive situation in the defence relations between Israel and India.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are purchasing new weapons systems and that may create a situation where Israeli and Indian-made weapon systems may be operated by the two countries as the dispute about the  Nagorno-Karabach region is creating new confrontations.

Israel is the main weapons supplier of Azerbaijan. Israel has very close defence cooperation also with India. India is now supplying weapon systems to Armenia.

On 12 September 2022, a series of clashes erupted between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops along the Armenia–Azerbaijan border, marking a major escalation in the 2021–2022 Armenia–Azerbaijan border crisis and resulting in nearly 300 deaths and dozens of injuries on both sides by 14 September.

Israel is the main weapon supplier of Azerbaijan. During the full-scale war in 2020, Israeli weapon systems played a major role. The main systems used by Azerbaijan in this war were Israeli-made loitering weapon systems, mainly the Harop.

This system manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI),  consists of a munitions unit, a transportable launcher and a mission control shelter, which provides real-time access to control the Harop by a man-in-the-loop. Harop has an operational range of 620 miles and an endurance of six hours.

Some weeks ago, a video emerged showing a Harop loitering weapon system hitting a Russian-made S-300 air defence system operated by the Armenians.

In recent months, there were reports about some new Israeli-developed weapon systems that Azerbaijan wants to acquire.

According to a report in India’s Economic Times a deal was signed recently by the Indian and Armenian governments that cover the supply of Indian-made weapon systems to Armenia.

According to the New Delhi-based paper, the deal includes the Pinaka multiple-launch rocket system designed and manufactured by Indian firms and increasingly used by India’s armed forces. There was no indication of the number of such systems commissioned by Yerevan.

Pinaka was first supplied to the Indian army two decades ago and since then has been repeatedly modernized. Two of its existing variants have an estimated maximum range of 40 and 60 kilometres. Armenia would be the first foreign buyer of these weapons.

Armenia’s government and Defence Ministry did not comment on the report which came amid Yerevan’s and New Delhi’s efforts to deepen bilateral ties. Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar have held four face-to-face meetings over the past year.

Visiting Yerevan in July this year, another senior Indian diplomat said the two sides are discussing “long-term” military cooperation.

The renewed fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh area will create additional arms deals between Azerbaijan and Israel. This is according to Israeli defence sources.

The defence ties between Azerbaijan and Israel are very close. This country has a long border with Iran and this fact makes it a very important ally in the region.

Azerbaijan has in recent years purchased some Israeli-developed weapon systems including loitering weapon systems to answer specific operational requirements. These systems were used extensively during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020 between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Video clips from the war zone showed the heavy use of Israeli loitering weapon systems by the Azeris.

In 2018 the Azeris acquired the Elbit Systems SkyStriker loitering weapon system. This is part of this country’s plan to acquire autonomous strike capabilities.

Azerbaijan is one of the largest weapons markets for Israeli military equipment, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The deal that was signed between Armenia and India is explained by the low quality of Russian-made systems used by Armenia and the fact that the Russians cannot at this time sell more weapons systems to this country, because of their huge losses in Ukraine.

India is a big customer of Israeli-made systems. The Indians are using Israeli ground, air and sea systems. One very special system is the Barak 8, also known as LR-SAM or as MR-SAM . This air defence system was jointly developed by India’s defence research & development organization (DRDO) and IAI. This system was jointly developed by Israel and India but sources point to the fact that many very advanced technologies are incorporated in many other India made weapon systems.

And back to the strange situation created by the new deal between India and Armenia – Azerbaijan purchased some Barak-8 systems and they were operated in the war with Armenia.

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