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AP: Israeli arms quietly helped Azerbaijan retake Nagorno-Karabakh

5-10-2023 |

Israel has quietly helped fuel Azerbaijan’s campaign to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh, supplying powerful weapons to Azerbaijan ahead of its lightening offensive last month that brought the ethnic Armenian enclave back under its control, officials and experts say.

Just weeks before Azerbaijan launched its 24-hour assault on Sept. 19, Azerbaijani military cargo planes repeatedly flew between a southern Israeli airbase and an airfield near Nagorno-Karabakh, according to flight tracking data and Armenian diplomats, even as Western governments were urging peace talks.

Azerbaijan’s September blitz involving heavy artillery, rocket launchers and drones — largely supplied by Israel and Turkey, according to experts — forced Armenian separatist authorities to lay down their weapons and sit down for talks on the future of the separatist region.

The Azerbaijani offensive killed over 200 Armenians in the enclave, the vast majority of them fighters, and some 200 Azerbaijani troops, according to officials.

There are ramifications beyond the volatile enclave of 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles). The fighting prompted over 100,000 people — more than 80% of the enclave’s ethnic Armenian residents — to flee in the last two weeks. Azerbaijan has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has termed the exodus “a direct act of an ethnic cleansing.” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry strongly rejected the accusation, saying the departures are a “personal and individual decision and (have) nothing to do with forced relocation.”

Israel’s foreign and defense ministries declined to comment on the use of Israeli weapons in Nagorno-Karabakh or on Armenian concerns about its military partnership with Azerbaijan. In July, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visited Baku, the Azerbaijan capital, where he praised the countries’ military cooperation and joint “fight against terrorism.”

Israel has a big stake in Azerbaijan, which serves as a critical source of oil and is a staunch ally against Israel’s archenemy Iran. It is also a lucrative customer of sophisticated arms.

“There’s no doubt about our position in support of Azerbaijan’s defense,” said Arkady Mil-man, Israel’s former ambassador to Azerbaijan and current senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “We have a strategic partnership to contain Iran.”

Few have benefited more from the two countries’ close relations than Israeli military contractors. Experts estimate Israel supplied Azerbaijan with nearly 70% of its arsenal between 2016 and 2020 — giving Azerbaijan an edge against Armenia and boosting Israel’s large defense industry.

“Israeli arms have played a very significant role in allowing the Azerbaijani army to reach its objectives,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms sales.

Source: AP