The Associated Press reports: Israeli defense officials on Sunday confirmed $1.6 billion in deals to sell drones as well as anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, bringing sophisticated Israeli technology to the doorstep of archenemy Iran.
The sales by state-run Israel Aerospace Industries come at a delicate time. Israel has been laboring hard to form diplomatic alliances in a region that seems to be growing increasingly hostile to the Jewish state.
It was not clear whether the arms deal with Azerbaijan was connected to any potential Israeli planes to strike Iran. The Israeli defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not at liberty to discuss defense deals.
Danny Yatom, a former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, said the timing of the deal was likely coincidental. “Such a deal … takes a long period of time to become ripe,” he told The Associated Press.
He said Israel would continue to sell arms to its friends. “If it will help us in challenging Iran, it is for the better,” he said.
Israel’s ties with Azerbaijan have grown as its once-strong strategic relationship with another Iranian neighbor, Turkey, has deteriorated, most sharply over Israel’s killing of nine Turks aboard a ship that sought to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010.
For Israeli intelligence, there is also a possible added benefit from Azerbaijan: Its significant cross-border contacts and trade with Iran’s large ethnic Azeri community.
For that same reason, as Iran’s nuclear showdown with the West deepens, the Islamic Republic sees the Azeri frontier as a weak point.
Earlier this month, Iran’s foreign ministry accused Azerbaijan of allowing the Israeli spy agency Mossad to operate on its territory and providing a corridor for “terrorists” to kill members of Iranian nuclear scientists.