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A damaged building in an Azeri border village. Photo: Aziz Karimov/Getty Images

Azerbaijan is using Israeli “kamikaze drones” in strikes against Armenian forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, the foreign policy adviser to the president of Azerbaijan told me in an interview.

Why it matters: The latest round of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan is threatening to escalate into a war involving regional powers, with Turkey intervening alongside Azerbaijan. But Israel also has a strategic relationship with Azerbaijan involving cooperation on security and energy.

  • 60% of Azerbaijan’s arms procurement comes from Israel, while a large portion of Israel's oil supply comes from Azerbaijan.

What's happening: Over the last several days an “air train” of cargo planes affiliated with the Azeri ministry of defense departed for Israel. According to flight radar apps, the cargo planes stopped at Ovda airbase in southern Israel before departing for Azerbaijan.

  • During today's interview, another Azeri cargo plane landed at the Israeli airbase. Israeli analysts believe those planes are carrying weapons from Israel to Azerbaijan, though Israeli officials refuse to confirm that.

What they're saying: Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to the president of Azerbaijan, told me in a Zoom interview from Baku that he was unsure of the precise purposes of the "air train" but stressed that Azerbaijan's defense cooperation with Israel is no secret.

  • Hajiyev said the planes could be delivering commercial goods “like fruits and vegetables."
  • When pressed on the fact that the Azeri planes landed at a military base, he acknowledged "it could be military items as well," though he said he believed the shipments were part of "our long-term cooperation with Israel" and not directly related to the fighting with Armenia.

But Hajiyev did say that Israeli Harop drones had "proved themselves very effective" in the fighting over the last few days.

  • "If Armenia is scared of the drones that Azerbaijan is using it should stop its occupation," he told me. Turkish drones have also been used in the fighting.
  • Israel hasn’t said anything publicly about the latest escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, and an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment for this story.
  • Hajiyev, meanwhile, said the Israeli technology "helps Azerbaijan to provide security for its citizens" — and the engineers should be congratulated.

Behind the scenes: Hajiyev said he'd spoken with State Department and Pentagon officials as well as the U.S. ambassador about the escalation, which began on Sunday, and called in the interview for a larger American role.

  • "We expect the U.S. to be more active as a mediator. Something needs to be done — more active engagement in our region. We don’t see that."

The backstory: The mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians but lies within the borders of Azerbaijan. The countries have both claimed the territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union, fought a war over it from 1992-1994, and stood on the precipice of further conflict since.

The latest: The UN Security Council called yesterday for a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

  • Hajiyev said any ceasefire must include an Armenian withdrawal from positions from which it can attack Azeri civilians.
  • Armenia, meanwhile, has accused Turkey of shooting down one of its fighter jets. Turkey denies that.
  • Hajiyev denied any Turkish involvement in the fighting. He claimed Azeri military radars showed two Armenian fighter jets crashing into a mountain, rather than being shot down.

Go deeper

Jan 6, 2021 - World

Scoop: Embassies are "natural next step," Moroccan king tells Netanyahu

Security forces in Rabat, Morocco, monitor protests against normalization with Israel. Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty

Morocco went most of the way to normalizing relations with Israel last month, but only committed to opening liaison offices, rather than embassies.

Why it matters: That decision led to speculation that Morocco was waiting to see if the Biden administration would roll back Trump's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara before going all the way with Israel. It also disappointed Netanyahu, who hoped Morocco would commit to full embassies, according to a senior Israeli official.

Jan 6, 2021 - World

Netanyahu aides fret that "Obama people" will shape Biden's Iran policy

Some members of Netanyahu's inner circle aren't happy to see Susan Rice and John Kerry back in the White House.

Members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner circle are concerned that President-elect Joe Biden is filling his administration with veterans of the Obama administration, some of whom they've had difficult relations in the past, particularly over Iran.

Why it matters: The Biden and Netanyahu administrations are on course for an early clash over the Iran nuclear deal. Several of Netanyahu’s aides at the Israeli National Security Council have been grumbling about the fact that Biden will be surrounded by "Obama people" — including the deal's architects and some of its fiercest advocates.

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