Israel Sells Drones, Missile Defense to Azerbaijan

Despite tension in the region over Iran’s nuclear program, an Azerbaijani-Israeli weapons deal has little to do with it.

Israel’s Aerospace Industries plans to sell $1.6 billion worth of drone aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan. The deal is almost the size of the Caucasus nation’s entire 2012 defense budget.

Although tension in the region between Azerbaijan and Israel on the one hand and Iran, which Western nations suspect is developing a nuclear weapons capacity, on the other is rising, EurasiaNet‘s Joshua Kucera argues that the weapons sale has more to do with neighboring Armenia which controls the Azerbaijani breakaway province of Nagorno-Karabakh

Azerbaijan and Israel do both regard Iran’s uranium enrichment program warily as well as its attempts at expanding regional influence. Indeed, Azerbaijan was once considered an excellent target for Islamist propaganda. It’s a 90 percent Muslim Shia nation while sixteen million ethnic Azerbaijanis live across the border in Iran. More than half a century of secular Soviet rule has fractured the religious sentiment in the country however so the ayatollahs’ fanaticism never managed to take root there.

Despite the recent tension and historic divide, Kucera believes it’s highly unlikely that Baku would ever instigate a war. “As much as Azerbaijan has been building up its military,” he writes, “it’s nowhere close to being able to deal with the Iranian military and would be essentially helpless in the face of an Iranian retaliation.”

Israel’s role in the deal has probably less to do with geopolitics than may appear to be the case. The Azerbaijanis simply have little choice but to buy from Israel. American and European legal restrictions prohibit it from buying weapons on the scale that it may like to from Western nations while Russian support for Armenia prevents former Soviet Union suppliers including Belarus and Ukraine from arming the Caspian nation. Kucera concludes, “Israel has no such concerns.”