debkafile Special: Last week, the Azerbaijani police rounded up six Iranian agents who had infiltrated the country and were looking for the air bases where their government housed the drones purchased from Israel. The spies were found in possession of cash, fake passports, automatic pistols, advanced electronic equipment for tracking aircraft and electronic warfare devices for jamming flying vehicles and down them. Questioning the detainees uncovered an Iranian plot to capture one of the Israel-made UAVs as it flew over the Caspian Sea.
Following the arrests, Azerbaijan barred entry to the Iranian culture attaché serving at the embassy in Baku on his return from home leave in Tehran. No valid reason was offered for this step except that his visa had expired. Azerbaijani investigators were able to establish that he was an undercover agent who was running the captured ring.
The episode which triggered the considerable friction between Baku and Tehran surfaced on Dec. 9 when Iran spread through its media allegations that the US and Israel had stepped up their intelligence surveillance of the Astara Rayon region of southeastern Azerbaijan along the Caspian maritime frontier with Iran.
The Americans were claimed to have expanded the coverage of their radar, while Israel was said to have increased the number of Orbiter ultra-light drones spying on the region, as well as using the 10 Hermes-450 UAVs, made in Israel and recently sold to Azerbaijan. According to Iranian sources, the Hermes drones’ spying operations over the Iranian border are guided by Israeli military satellites.
In Israel, there was little doubt that Tehran was laying the groundwork for an attempt to force down an Israeli-Azerbaijani drone with the same sort of traps used against two American drones – the ScanEagle, which was downed over the Persian Gulf earlier this month, and the MQ 1 Predator which came under fire from two Iranian Air Force SU-25 fighters as it approached the skies over the Bushehr nuclear reactor.
Referring to the ScanEagle, Revolutionary Guards Navy commander Adm. Ali Fadavi said Tuesday, Dec. 4, that one of his units had captured a US drone flying over his forces in the Persian Gulf.
Catching Israeli drones is a challenge of a different order since none fly near Iranian borders. All the same, Tehran was suspected of planning to net one of the drones Azerbaijan bought from Israel and, despite the purchaser’s military markings, present it as the capture of an Israeli spy drone controlled by the Israeli Air Force and military intelligence, MI.
This would have been a feather in Tehran’s cap on a par with its success on Oct. 6 in keeping an Iranian drone, launched by Hizballah from Lebanon, on the loose for two hours in Israeli airspace before it was downed.