How did Israeli tech affect Azerbaijan’s victory in Nagorno-Karabakh? – analysis

Jerusalem Post
Oct 5 2023

Israel and Azerbaijan are strategic partners and have close relations. Over the last decades, these ties have increased.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen made an important visit to Azerbaijan in April and stressed the strategic relations between Israel and Azerbaijan which are multi-layered and involve security, energy, trade, and tourism.

Now those ties are in the spotlight because of the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh where most of the Armenian population has now fled after a brief day of fighting between Armenian forces and Baku’s far superior military. While Israel's defense technology played a key role in Baku’s overall victory in several rounds of fighting in the last years, the larger story is how Russia and the West let this conflict take place.  

There are questions about whether Israel’s defense ties and arms sales to Baku were linked to the conflict or somehow fueled it and increased Baku’s capabilities. It’s important here to take a step back and understand the broader context and history. The Soviet Union created the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh by creating a patchwork of borders and areas in the Caucasus where a mosaic of groups live, including many minorities that live within the borders of other countries.

In the 1990s, when the Soviet Union fell apart, this unleashed wars in many places and left simmering conflicts, whether in Chechnya, Georgia, or between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

Armenia had the upper hand in the 1990s when it was backed by Russia. It had inherited a traditional Soviet military infrastructure, with lots of tanks, artillery and heavy conventional weapons.

Azerbaijan, by contrast, sought to improve its military with modern weapons acquired through procurement that was fueled by its booming economy, based partly on energy trade and other resources. Baku has a close alliance with Ankara and Turkey under the AKP party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to strengthen Baku’s hand.  

Israeli defense companies have a played a role in Azerbaijan’s modernization of its armed forces. This has caused controversy in the past. In 2018 Radio Free Europe had a report saying “Israel accuses drone maker of bombing Armenian soldiers, at Baku's request.” It was widely known that Azerbaijan acquired a large number of different types of drones from Israel, including loitering munitions.

Loitering munitions are a type of drone where the drone itself is the warhead, similar to a cruise missile. The difference is the munition can “loiter” and look for targets. In the past these were expensive pieces of equipment used to hunt down high value targets or destroy radars.   

Over the years Azerbaijan clashed with Armenia over the area of Nagorno-Karabakh. This area, inhabited by Armenians, is part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by Armenia since the 1990s.

In 2016, there were clashes and the Jamestown Foundation noted Baku’s success using drones, particularly those acquired from Israel. Reports over the years also noted the large number of defense deals that Baku had with Israeli companies, more than a billion dollars in one deal, according to Haaretz.  

The conflict in 2016 continued for several days and enabled Baku to unveil its new technology on the battlefront. This was a dry run for 2020 when Azerbaijan defeated Armenian forces and ended up controlling a swath of territory around Nagorno-Karabkah, territory that Baku noted it was merely reconquering after the conflict in the 1990s. Reports in the fall of 2020 noted that Baku had praised the role of Israeli drones and technology in this conflict. It also praised the role Turkey had played and Turkey’s Bayraktar drones.  

However, drones don’t win wars. Drones can help a country like Azerbaijan achieve a lot of results using precision strikes. This, in a sense, gave Baku an instant air force. Countries like Azerbaijan that may not have access to modern 5th generation warplanes sold by the US, such as the F-35, have access to the next level of modern technology via drones. Israeli-made systems like the Harop, Haropy, Orbiter or SkyStrikes and others are at the forefront of technology in the new battlefields of the future.

However, precision strikes only give a country a certain amount of capabilities to overmatch an adversary. They can degrade radars and take out headquarters, communication nodes and armored vehicles. They can strike long range missiles and strategic targets. This is how the US destroyed Iraq’s army in 1991, it pounded it from the air for weeks and then eviscerated it in several days of ground warfare. 

The Iraqi army in 1991 was also heavily reliant on Soviet era armored vehicles and systems, like the Armenian army of 2016-2020. Therefore Azerbaijan defeated Armenia through the use of modern technology, but in the end Baku had to send in ground forces to win the war at the end. Azerbaijan’s armored vehicles and ground forces equipment is still linked to the country’s past and thus relies on Russian equipment. Therefore Baku delivered a one-two punch, using modern technology from countries like Israel, with Russian and older equipment that Baku had on hand.  

Man Who Predicted Rise of A.I in 2015 Says: "Buy This Stock Now"The legend who picked Nvidia in 2015, before a 5,246% jump, just flew 3,000 miles to record this surprising video right outside this AI project.Sponsored by Teeka News

Forget The Blue Pill, Use This Household Food To Fight EDSponsored by

The conflict in 2023 in Nagorno-Karabakh that has caused 120,000 Armenians to flee was not a military conflict. It only took Baku one day to defeat the 10,000 Armenian fighters who had been blockaded in Nagorno-Karabkah for months and who had access to old munitions and old conventional weapons. In essence the conflict in Nagorno-Karabkah was decided years ago. Armenia had abandoned the Armenians there and they had been blockaded by Baku via the Lachin corridor road to Armenia.

Baku also was able to get Russia on its side before the conflict. The West also appears to have signed off. This is clear because the West warned Serbia against a military build up on Kosovo’s border in late September and early October, but the West didn’t warn about Baku’s military build-up. The West views Azerbaijan’s operation as enforcing territorial integrity under the rules-based international order, which means the Armenians were viewed as “separatists” and Baku had a right to take back the area.  

Therefore the story of the brief fighting in Nagorno-Karabkah that led to Armenians fleeing was not about Israeli military technology. This was an old style strategic victory for Baku. They cut the area off, they blockaded it and then they asserted their rights to it via a quick military victory at a few key points.

Azerbaijan’s operations took place with Russian peacekeepers looking on, this was not a huge battle in which Baku had to hammer away at Armenian fighters in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. This was a stratagem, presenting the Armenians with a fait accompli, and the Armenians were abandoned by the international community which had quietly accepted that this would be the outcome.   

Reports suggesting Israeli arms fueled this conflict exaggerate the role of Israel’s role. Israeli defense technology has turned Azerbaijan into a modern military power that can project strength and also defend its skies. It has transformed it into a powerhouse in the South Caucasus. However, that is only part of the story of what defeated the Armenians.

They were defeated because Russia abandoned them, unlike in the 1990s, and because they were cut off in Nagorno-Karabakh, a result of the international community not demanding observers and an international presence and some kind of agreement giving them autonomy. They didn’t benefit, for instance, from the support the Kosovars had in the 1990s. Baku understood this and acted accordingly.

The real story of Israel’s success in a strategic partnership with Baku goes much further and has implications for the future. Israel makes the technology that is transforming warfare, making it more precise and more technology-driven. This isn’t the heavy weapons of warfare of old, like giant 60-ton tanks, this is the nimble technology that makes conflicts faster and less deadly. Baku’s success and the tragedy that befell the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh is more a story of larger countries such as the US and Russia, rather than a story of defense tech that helped Azerbaijan achieve overmatch on the tactical level.