Opinion by Emil Sanamyan
On June 11, Ilham Aliyev showed off his latest purchases – missile systems capable of hitting targets anywhere in Armenia, most of Georgia, much of north Caucasus of Russia and northwestern Iran.
One of the two systems seen, the Long-Range Artillery Weapon System or LORA, is produced by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and claims to be able to deliver half a ton payload with 10-meter accuracy to as far as 300 kilometers. Another is the Chinese A200 system – re-branded in Belarus as Polonez – is reportedly capable of launching 301mm caliber guided missiles as far as 200 kilometers.
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Both missile systems are intended to offset the Iskander missile systems that Russia sold to Armenia in recent years to serve as a deterrent to Azerbaijan’s military build-up. In other words, the sale of these new missile systems makes Armenia’s military deterrent weaker and a new military confrontation – and new round of bloodshed for both sides – more likely.
Matters of citizens’ life and death are typically of great public interest and scrutiny in most countries. But so far, the new government of Nikol Pashinyan seems to have embraced the deaf and mute approach of its predecessors.
Deputy foreign minister Ruben Rubenyan and ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan issued comments suggesting that the involvement of Belarus in the Polonez sale ran contrary to its obligations within the Collective Security Treaty Organization of which Armenia is also a member. Belarus produced heavy trucks on which both the Polonez (the Chinese A200) and LORA are mounted. Balayan also said that in general it was a bad idea to sell weapons to Azerbaijan, considering its government’s behavior.
They made no specific statements about either Chinese or Israeli companies involved in manufacturing and sale of missiles.
Most importantly no public comments came from Armenia’s number one spokesman – Nikol Pashinyan. For years, Serzh Sargsyan was quiet as Russia and Israel sent billions of dollars-worth of weaponry to Azerbaijan, breaking his silence only when pressed to do so by media or events, such as around the time of April 2016 war.
Now Pashinyan looks as mum as Serzh Sargsyan was.
This is particularly odd with regard to Israel, which is the key supplier of weaponry to Azerbaijan. In April 2016, Israeli-manufactured anti-tank weapons and suicide drones, latter also built by IAI, killed at least 23 Armenian military personnel and volunteers or nearly one-third of all personnel killed in fighting from April 2-5.
Weapons sales to Azerbaijan are certainly highly lucrative and there other Iran-related reasons that Israel plays favorites with the Aliyev regime. However, unlike China and Belarus, Israel has democratic institutions and there is public debate on matters of weapons sales. Thus, Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman has been accused in Knesset of personally profiting from the deals with Aliyev. There are hints that he may be under investigation for alleged corruption.
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Last summer, after prominent Israeli national security reporter Yossi Melman published reports that Israeli personnel from Aeronautics company were involved in suicide drone operations against Armenian forces, the Israeli government pulled that company’s export license and launched an investigation. According to Melman, that investigation is expected to be concluded soon.
Recently, Melman wrote about shady deals by another Israeli company – Elbit – that reportedly issued fraudulent end-user certificates to Czech and Slovak suppliers of artillery systems to Azerbaijan, in order to avoid the European Union’s restrictions on weapons exports to Azerbaijan.
Through all of this, the Armenian government has made no effort to make a public case against Israeli weapons sales to Azerbaijan. Armenian diplomats don’t seem to believe they can change anything.
Incidentally, this was exactly the attitude of most of the Armenian political class on the eve of Serzh Sargsyan’s third term. Last March, shortly before launching their campaign of civil disobedience, Pashinyan and other activists admitted chances of success were low. But they also knew that “it would be worse if we all stay home and do nothing.”