Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Home » Apply Magnitsky Act Sanctions to Israeli Arms Exporters

Apply Magnitsky Act Sanctions to Israeli Arms Exporters

by Famil Hasanov
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Israel is reeling after an unprecedented attack that killed over 1200 and forced tens of thousands of Israelis to flee their homes. Hamas’ goal, outlined in its founding document, is ethnic cleansing and the elimination of the Jewish state. Even after the guns of Israel’s response go silent, Israeli diplomats will seek Western pressure, if not sanctions, on those providing Hamas with the weaponry it needed to launch its brutal surprise attack.

Israelis have not been the only people under fire this past month, however. Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev continues to celebrate his conquest of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani advance and threat of genocide forced that mountainous region’s indigenous Armenian population to flee en masse into Armenia proper. For the first time since St. Gregory the Illuminator converted Armenia to Christianity in 301 AD, Nagorno-Karabakh will be devoid of a Christian community, except perhaps for a few whom the Azerbaijani government treats as living museum exhibits for visiting dignitaries on the stage-managed visits. The Aliyev regime, meanwhile, now openly talks about continuing its advance, perhaps even to the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

Aliyev’s decision to address disputes with Armenia by war rather than diplomacy rests largely on the qualitative edge Azerbaijan gained when Israeli companies agreed to sell him top-shelf military technology against which Armenia had no defense. Thousands of deaths over the past three years were, therefore, unnecessary. 

Prior to the Israeli weapons sales, Minsk Group diplomats from the United States, France, and even Russia, alongside their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, had already outlined a far more comprehensive and just agreement. Armenian and Azerbaijani negotiators had largely agreed to an Armenian return of occupied Azerbaijani districts, swaps of unsustainable enclaves, and a right of return to Nagorno-Karabakh for Azeris who fled in the early 1990s. The agreement would have also enshrined the basic democratic freedoms that Nagorno-Karabakh enjoyed. Discussions had advanced to discuss timelines and identify potential external peacekeeping forces, perhaps from the Scandinavian countries. What changed Aliyev’s calculation was, in part, the advanced weapons systems Israel was willing to provide. Between 2016 and 2020, Israel accounted for almost 70 percent of Azerbaijan’s “major arms” imports. 

Israel might justify its weapons trade with Azerbaijan in arms-for-energy calculations or Azerbaijan’s willingness to assist Israeli infiltration of Iran. Such excuses fall flat. The Abraham Accords meant that Israel had energy options beyond Azerbaijan. Journalists might criticize the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) human rights record and foreign policy, but its political rights and civil liberty scores are double those of Azerbaijan, according to the latest Freedom House rankings. Most importantly, the UAE does not incite genocide against its rivals, nor does it harbor irredentist ambitions as Aliyev does.

Nor is the threat Iran poses to Israel a reason to back an increasingly erratic dictator. Not only does Azerbaijan have its own reasons to counter Iran regardless of any Israeli incentives, but Israel also has other options in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region they have thoroughly penetrated. In hindsight, the weaponry Israel exported to Azerbaijan would have been better utilized to defend Israel’s own borders with Gaza and Lebanon.

Nor should anyone in Washington accept Jerusalem’s arguments that their arms dealing with Azerbaijan was strategic only. Money matters. For years, Israeli officials downplayed American concerns about Israel’s technology trade with the Chinese Communist Party. When push came to shove, Israeli businesses hoped to profit off the trade. When the diplomatic dispute came to a head, Israel’s initial refusal and arrogant dismissal of American concerns escalated the crisis unnecessarily. 

Just as the Biden administration rallies to prevent the escalation of attacks on Israel, it is also imperative the United States act to constrain Aliyev before he commits even more gross violations of human rights. Azerbaijani forces wearing arms patches celebrating the first Armenian Genocide raise concern about his ultimate intent. So does the arrest of both billionaire and former State Minister Reuben Vardanyan (a former colleague of Samantha Power at the Aurora Foundation) and Foreign Minister David Babayan. Every Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Turkey sees the parallels between their detention and the 1915 arrests of Armenian intellectuals that kicked off the first Armenian Genocide. When it comes to genocidal intent, the only difference between the Azerbaijani army and Hamas is the targets of their ambition.

Just as congressmen demand Washington reconsider its relationship with Qatar, a state that effectively serves as Hamas’ banker, so too do representatives and senators demand the Biden administration cut off military aid to Azerbaijan. Frankly, both steps are long overdue, but if the goal is to prevent further Azerbaijani aggression and to compel the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces from dozens of square miles they occupy in Armenia proper, it is also necessary to sanction the Israeli enablers of Azerbaijani aggression and ethnic cleansing. While defending Israel in its existential struggle is right, such support should not mean sacrificing the world’s oldest Christian state. Standing up to racist aggression should not be an either-or prospect; we can do both. 

This is why it is necessary to target Israeli individuals complicit in Azerbaijan’s genocide with Magnitsky Act sanctions.

In 2017, Israel’s Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. reportedly demonstrated the use of a suicide drone against an Armenian position in order to win an Azerbaijani contract. Israel’s state attorney’s office summoned Amos Matan, the company’s chief executive officer; his deputy Meir Rizmovitch; development director Haim Hivashar; and marketing director David Goldin. In 2020, Matan stepped down against the backdrop of the criminal investigation and appointed Moshe Elazer, the naval systems director at Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, to be his replacement.

In 2019, the Israeli Defense Ministry reinstated the Aeronautics Defense Systems’ export license so that the company might resume arms sales to Azerbaijan. Subsequently, dozens of cargo flights departed Israel for Azerbaijan, allegedly loaded with arms. Such weapons transfers undermined multilateral diplomacy and convinced Aliyev he had a license to kill and made Israel complicit in Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic cleansing. 

If Aeronautics Defense System’s peacetime attack on Armenian positions was a shot heard around the South Caucasus, perhaps designating past and current officers of the company under the Global Magnitsky Act could be a shot heard from Jerusalem to Ankara and Baku to Moscow. Israel has every right to act in defense of its own security, given the existential threat it faces from Iran and the terrorist challenges it faces from the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Still, Israeli government officials and business people should have no right to undermine democracies or grease the wheels of ethnic cleansing. Being both a US ally and a terror victim themselves should not provide immunity for Israeli defense executives to profit from similar abuses. 

Israelis are right that they are a sovereign country, not an American satrapy. They can make their own decisions. By the same logic, however, they should not expect U.S. support for the commercial decisions their defense executives make; quite the contrary. When Israel acts as egregiously as it has in the South Caucasus, those most involved in drone exports should expect consequences. If they do not wish to face those, then it is time they find a better client than Azerbaijan.

Source : National Interest

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