Armenian forces launched retaliatory mortar strikes on Azerbaijani military facilities on May 17. Defense Army video grab.
Armenian forces launched retaliatory mortar strikes on Azerbaijani military facilities on May 17. Defense Army video grab.

On May 15, amid reports of an unprecedented crackdown involving dozens of military personnel for alleged espionage, Azerbaijani forces attacked an Armenian air defense position near the Karabakh Line of Contact. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense was first to report about the incident publishing a video montage online.

The Armenian military confirmed the attack. Defense Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL Armenian Service that Azerbaijani forces launched three Israeli-produced Spike anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). According to the spokesman, the first missile missed, second grazed the Armenian Osa (SA-8) tactical air defense unit and third hit another vehicle, exploding it. The spokesman stressed that the Armenian military did not suffer any casualties in the attack.

On May 17, the Karabakh Defense Army published its own video made from on the ground and drone operated cameras showing Armenian forces launching mortar attacks on Azerbaijani positions several kilometers from the Line of Contact. In accompanying comments, the Army described the targets as Azerbaijani air defense infrastructure and other firing points located on outskirts of a village east of Karabakh. The Azerbaijani defense ministry confirmed the attack, adding that its forces did not suffer any equipment or personnel losses.

This battle of the videos – with each video raking up close to 200,000 views just on the official youtube accounts – reflects the primarily propagandist nature of the attacks. The Azerbaijani side seeks to show off its technological capabilities, with little regard for third-party reactions. The Armenian side wants to make clear such shows of force are not without cost to Azerbaijan, but without escalating fighting even more.

The overall situation on the Line of Contact has shown signs of escalation since late March. The Armenian military reported intensified sniper fire with two servicemen killed at the end of March and two more killed and one seriously wounded throughout April. Since mid-April there has been resumption of mortar fire. At the end of April and again in early May, Azerbaijani forces also opened fired on the Armenian border village of Baganis in northeastern Armenia.

The current level of escalation is similar to that observed through most of 2014-15, with the Azerbaijani side seeking to ambush Armenian forces and the Armenian side delivering measured counterattacks. That was followed by a relative hiatus in first three months of 2016, the intense fighting in April and to lesser extent May, and relative relaxation of tensions through the rest of 2016.

There was another flare-up in fighting last February, when two Azerbaijani special forces attacks on Armenian positions were thwarted. With the Armenian line of defense saturated with night-vision equipment, the Azerbaijani forces are likely to emphasize more stand-off attacks delivered via missiles, artillery or suicide drones.