Azerbaijan's arms purchases from Israel no 'direct threat to Iran'

Thu 29 Mar 2012 02:25 GMT | 06:25 Local Time

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News.Az interviews Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher on the Arms Transfers Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

SIPRI reports that the $1.6-billion arms deal, signed between Azerbaijan and Israel in 2011, envisages the purchase by Baku of the Barak-8 missile system, 75 Barak-8 missiles, the EL/M-2080 Green Pine radar, Gabriel-5 anti-ship missile, five Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and five Searcher UAVs. How accurate is this information?

Almost all the information we have regarding Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan is uncertain. It has been widely reported that the Israeli company IAI signed a deal worth USD1.6 billion with Azerbaijan in late 2011/early 2012, but the exact content of the deal is still not known. Reports generally agree that at least one Green Pine radar is included. However, whereas it has been widely reported that the deal includes SAM systems, anti-ship missiles and UAVs we still lack sufficient independent reports to confirm which exact types are involved and how many. Therefore the information about the Barak-8, the Gabriel-5, the Herons and the Searchers are all estimates, both regarding type and numbers involved. It is entirely possible that the deal includes other weapons too.

It's important to point out that Azerbaijan has acquired a whole range of other weapons from several  suppliers, not just the recent deal with Israel. I attach a register of major arms procured by Azerbaijan in the period 2007-2011. The register only shows transfers of major arms as defined by SIPRI. There are other significant projects ongoing, e.g. the modernization of T-72 tanks by Israeli companies. Also all indications are that Azerbaijan plans substantial further arms procurement in the coming years.

What can you say about those types of weapons, are they offensive ones?

There are no inherently defensive weapons. An offensive is usually backed up with a proper defence in order to counter a counter offensive, i.e. you don't attack with tanks without defending them with SAM systems against counter air attacks. Therefore weapons procurement should always be considered in the context of existing and planned arsenals and military capabilities, security policies, known or suspected intentions of arms procuring states and military doctrines. The USD1.6 billion deal with IAI includes air defence systems, which can defend Azeri forces against air attacks.

The systems could theoretically be used to defend Azeri forces defending Azerbaijan or to defend Azeri forces using other weapons, such as the variety of other combat aircraft, tanks and artillery mentioned in the attached register, to attack a neighbour.

Tehran is still warning that Azerbaijan could use that weapon against Iran. As a military expert, do you think that this kind of weapon could pose a danger to Iran?

The Azeri arms procurement from Israel is not a direct threat to Iran, in the sense that it seems very unlikely that Azerbaijan would attack Iran. I am also not aware of Iran having complained about all the arms deals Azerbaijan has signed with other countries. However the Israeli arms deals are a strong signal that Azerbaijan and Israel have good relations. This is of strategic importance to Israel and it is not surprising that the deal probably strengthen Iran's existing threat perception of being surrounded by US- or Israeli-friendly countries equipped with advanced military capabilities.

Pakistan is another country offering similar weapons to Azerbaijan. What can you say about the quality of the Israeli weapons?

The Israeli arms industry produces a wide diversity of arms and other military equipment, which is widely regarded as well designed and of high quality. In particular in the field of command, control, communication, reconnaissance, intelligence and surveillance systems and in the field of air-defence systems Israeli companies have achieved major export successes. But also regarding armour, artillery and small arms Israeli companies are highly competitive on the international market.
Still, there is no reason to single out Israeli arms supply to Azerbaijan, other than that it upsets Iran. Many other arms producing companies based elsewhere are aggressively marketing their products in Azerbaijan.

From the attached list you can see that companies in a variety of countries supplied arms to Azerbaijan in recent years: Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, South Africa, Belarus, Bosnia and Israel. In addition China and Pakistan have been mentioned as countries marketing arms to Azerbaijan. Standard open market principles can be applied.They may offer weapons Israel does not offer (e.g. Pakistan offers in cooperation with China complete new combat aircraft, Russia supplies new combat helicopters), they  may offer less advanced weapons cheaper, they may offer weapons similar to those offered by Israel but at better prices or other conditions (e.g. presumably the Russian supplied S-300 SAM system).

Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of violating the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Azerbaijan is indeed actively arming itself and does not conceal that it is doing so in case of a military scenario to resolve the Karabakh conflict. But is there evidence of CFE violations?

The accusations of violating the CFE Treaty go both ways. I cannot judge myself right now if these accusations are correct. One problem is that it will be difficult to determine how much operational equipment, limited by the CFE Treaty, both countries have.




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