92 flights from Israeli base reveal arms exports to Azerbaijan – Haaretz

Over the past seven years, 92 cargo flights flown by Azerbaijani Silk Way Airlines have landed at the Ovda airbase, the only airfield in Israel through which explosives may be flown into and out of the country, an investigation by Haaretz reveals.

According to the source, an Azerbaijani cargo plane landed last Thursday at the Ovda Israeli air force base north of Eilat. After two hours on the ground, as usual, the old Ilyushin-76 airlifter took off, flew over central Israel, continued north over Turkey and then to the east – returning to its home field in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

Silk Way is one of the largest cargo airlines in Asia, and according to official documents it serves as a subcontractor for various defense ministries around the world. The company operates three weekly flights between Baku and Ben-Gurion International Airport with Boeing 747 cargo freighters, and last year it was the third-largest foreign cargo carrier in terms of volume at Ben-Gurion, Haaretz writes.

The investigation reveals, however, that since 2016, the company’s IL-76 planes have landed at least 92 times at the Ovda airport, an unusual destination for civilian cargo planes.

According to the report, Silk Way is one of the very few airlines that lands at Ovda; over the years only a handful of Eastern European airlines that have carried explosives have landed and taken off from there. Silk Way was even at the center of an investigative report in the Czech media in 2018, which stated that weapons banned for sale to Azerbaijan were flown there in spite of the arms embargo – in a circular deal through Israel.

“In October 2013, the head of the Israel Civil Aviation Authority, Giora Romm, signed an exemption permitting Silk Way planes to fly shipments of explosives – “classified as dangerous materials banned to fly” – from Ovda to a military airfield on the outskirts of Baku. This exemption, which was posted at the time on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website, requires strict safety conditions, and includes a list of the Azerbaijani aircraft allowed to transport explosives from Ovda to Azerbaijan,” the report reads.

Haaretz notes that Silk Way aircraft (and others) have landed at Ovda almost 100 times since the permit was issued.

The data expose an increasing pace of flights to Baku especially in the middle of 2016, in late 2020 and at the end of 2021 – which coincide with periods of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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