April 4, 2012: Azerbaijan angered its neighbor, Iran, when it recently purchased $1.6 billion in military equipment from Israel. Details of this purchase were never mentioned, but now the veil of secrecy is being lifted. Among the items ordered were Gabriel anti-ship missiles. These are 522 kg (1,150 pound) weapons with a range of 36 kilometers. Azerbaijan will use these to protect its Caspian Sea coast from the growing number of Iranian warships being introduced in the area.
Also obtained were five Heron and five Searcher UAVs. The Israeli Heron TP is a 4.6 ton aircraft that can operate at 14.5 kilometers (45,000 feet). The Heron TP has a one ton payload, enabling it to carry sensors that can give a detailed view of what's on the ground, even from that high up. The endurance of 36 hours makes the Heron TP a competitor for the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper. The Searcher 2 is a half-ton aircraft with an endurance of 20 hours, max altitude of 7,500 meters (23,000 feet), and can operate up to 300 kilometers from the operator. It can carry a 120 kg (264 pound) payload.
For air defense there are Barak-8 systems, including 75 missiles. The Barak missiles cost about $1.6 million each, weigh 98 kg (216 pounds) with a 21.8 kg (48 pound) warhead, and have a range of ten kilometers. The missiles are mounted in an eight cell container (which requires little maintenance) and are launched straight up. The radar system provides 360 degree coverage and the missiles can take down an incoming anti-ship or cruise missile as close as 500 meters away. Each Barak system (missile container, radar, computers, and installation) costs about $24 million. The missile is also effective against aircraft and can be mounted on ships or trucks.
Also part of the deal is a Green Pine radar system, which Israel uses for its missile defense system. Green Pine can detect incoming ballistic missiles up to 500 kilometers away but can also spot approaching warplanes.
Azerbaijan has told Iran that all these weapons were not intended for making war on Iran but for settling a territorial dispute with neighboring Armenia. Two years ago all this Iranian hostility, and disputes with neighboring Armenia, led oil rich Azerbaijan to increase its defense budget 87 percent to $3.1 billion. Nearly half the budget was spent to modernize the armed forces. A lot of the cash was quietly spent on improved counter-terrorism capabilities. Israel was providing advisors and special equipment to detect and deal with growing Iranian sponsored Islamic terrorism in Azerbaijan. This Israeli connection, and especially the growing success of the Azeris in countering Iranian terror efforts, has infuriated the Iranians.
Located on the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and much of its military equipment is of Cold War vintage. Azerbaijan is 95 percent Moslem (85 percent Shia) and has some serious territorial disputes with its Christian neighbor, Armenia. The two countries have been at each other's throats for nearly two decades because of a land dispute. Although Azerbaijan has three times more people and much more money (because of oil), the Armenians are better soldiers and the dispute has been stalemated. Azerbaijan has a population of nine million and a GDP of $72 billion, compared to 3.2 million Armenians who have a GDP of $10 billion. Azerbaijan is determined to reverse this string of defeats, no matter the cost.