Israel and Azerbaijan have “extensive ties,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday, a day after Azerbaijan’s defense minister said his country had purchased the Iron Dome missile defense system from Israel.
The Azerbaijani Press Agency reported on Saturday that Azerbaijan Defense Industry Minister Yaver Jamalov told reporters that the central Asian country reached an agreement with Israel to purchase the anti-missile batteries.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the company that developed the Iron Dome with Israel Aircraft Industries, had no comment on the sale.
The system intercepts shortrange rockets and artillery shells fired from a distance of four to 70 kilometers if their trajectory takes them into populated areas.
Azerbaijan is believed to be one of the first countries to purchase the weapon. Over the years, there have been reports of other countries – including South Korea, Singapore and India – that have expressed interest in the system, but those sales were never publicly confirmed.
Azerbaijan’s interest in the system is believed to stem from Armenia’s recent purchase of Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missiles.
Last week, after meeting with Netanyahu, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev revealed that his country has signed $5 billion worth of long-term contracts over the years to buy weapons and security equipment from Israel.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that Israel imports about half its oil from Azerbaijan, and is looking into the possibility of hooking up to the country’s gas pipeline that supplies gas to Europe.
He described his reception in Azerbaijan – which he visited once before briefly as prime minister in 1997 – as “extraordinary.”