Azerbaijani Media: That Drone Wasn't Ours -- It Was Israel's!
After the Armenian government in Nagorno Karabakh said they shot down an unmanned Azerbaijani drone last week, Baku quickly denied that it was theirs, but didn't provide any additional information. But then the state news agency APA came out with an explanation that, to be charitable, we can call "elaborate." Approvingly citing a Turkish tabloid report, APA suggests that the drone may have in fact been Israeli:
The anonymous sources close to Turkish diplomacy claim that the pilotless jet belongs to Israel.
The newspaper says that according to the diplomatic office, the pilotless jet belongs to the Israeli air forces: “The jet ascended from the military base located in Armenia or occupied Karabakh to make the reconnaissance flight related to Iran. Thus, the occupied lands of Azerbaijan are used not for the drug transit and as a terror base but turned into a military base for the secret operations and military reconnaissance”. The source also said that Israel currently holds reconnaissance operations by means of pilotless jets over Middle Eastern countries.
If Armenia really were allowing Israeli UAVs to spy on Iran from its territory, why would they be based in the disputed territory of Karabakh, rather than closer to the Iranian border in Armenia proper? And why would Armenia -- which has good relations with Iran -- allow such a thing in the first place? As this fascinating Wikileaked cable describes, it's in fact Azerbaijan that has a close relationship with Israel -- based in part on their similar perception of the threat from Iran:
Azerbaijan's relations with Israel are discreet but close. Each country finds it easy to identify with the other's geopolitical difficulties and both rank Iran as an existential security threat. Israel's world-class defense industry with its relaxed attitude about its customer base is a perfect match for Azerbaijan's substantial defense needs that are largely left unmet by the United States, Europe and Russia for various reasons tied to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Aptly described by Azerbaijani President Aliyev as being like an iceberg, nine-tenths of it is below the surface...
The APA/Turkish tabloid report goes on to note a couple of technical details that it says disprove the Armenian version of events: that the photos of the wreckage suggest a crash, rather than shootdown, and that a part identified in the wreckage suggests that it's a different model of UAV than the Armenians claim. I've asked a few military aviation experts to weigh in on those claims, and no one has, perhaps wisely not wanting to get involved with such an unlikely conspiracy theory. So I can't speak to that. But if this is the last word from Baku on this incident, it will certainly be a curious one.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.