Israel inks $1.6 billion arms deal with Azerbaijan (AP) Associated Press) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/26/12 10:06 am ET)
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JERUSALEM – 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
Its most pressing concern is Iran´s nuclear program, and Israeli
leaders have hinted broadly that they would be prepared to attack
Iranian nuclear facilities if they see no other way to keep Tehran
from building bombs.
Iran denies Israeli and Western claims it seeks to develop atomic
weapons, and says its disputed nuclear program is designed to produce
energy and medical isotopes.
In Jerusalem, Israel´s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said
Iran´s nuclear program will take center stage in his upcoming talks
with U.S. and Canadian leaders. Netanyahu is to meet with Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa on Friday and with President
Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.
Speaking to the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said a U.N.
nuclear agency report last week buttressed Israel´s warnings that
Iran is trying to produce a nuclear bomb. The agency said Iran has
rapidly ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium over
the last few months.
Netanyahu said the report provided "another piece of incontrovertible
evidence" that Iran is advancing rapidly with its nuclear program.
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
Azerbaijan dismissed the Iranian claims as "slanderous lies." Israeli
leaders have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly
Israel, meanwhile, recently claimed authorities foiled Iranian-
sponsored attacks against Israeli targets in Azerbaijan. Such claims
have precedents: In 2008, Azeri officials said they thwarted a plot
to explode car bombs near the Israeli Embassy; two Lebanese men were
later convicted in the bombing attempt. A year earlier, Azerbaijan
convicted 15 people in connection with an alleged Iranian-linked spy
network accused of passing intelligence on Western and Israeli
Iran has denied Azerbaijan´s latest charges of plotting to kill
Israelis, but a diplomatic rupture is unlikely. Azerbaijan is an
important pathway for Iranian goods in the Caucasus region and both
nations have signed accords among Caspian nations on energy,
environmental and shipping policies. (© 2012 The Associated Press
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