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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Generous agricultural drone gift to Russia by Israel causing plenty of problems

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had a very successful three day meeting in Israel with Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and ended up touring the Israeli government's Volcani Institute.

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The two had ended up with a wide-ranging deal that will help the Russian dairy industry with technology, services and know-how provided by Israeli companies and the Volcani Institute. The deal is worth as much as $15 billion. While touring the Volcani Institute, Medvedev was shown a helicopter drone that was used for agricultural research. On impulse, Ariel asked if Medvedev would like the aircraft considering it a gracious gift to express his appreciation for the deal with Russia. Medvedev accepted.
However, it turns out there are a few problems. The drone may have been developed using U.S. technology which the U.S. would not want transferred to the Russians. Also, the drone did not belong to the Department of Agriculture to give away. Finally when the Russians came to pick up the drone it lacked crucial features such as the remote control.
The drone was worth about $52,000. When Medvedev accepted the gift Israel, director-general Shlomo Eliyahu said he would make arrangements. There were a few problems. The drone belonged to the Institute and so had to be paid for by the Department. The gift's value exceeded the limit for the value of gifts by sixty times. When the Russians came to pick up the drone they had to wait for some time until Volcani staff were given permission from some official to release it. But they did not give it all.
Sources close to the Institute said: "The model of the drone that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev received as a gift from Agriculture Minister Ariel was given without the operating system and remote control." The staff did not hand over the remote control equipment and thermal camera that they estimated cost about $26,000. The Russians have asked for the parts and perhaps if they are not received there could be some difficulties with the deal.
There will be difficulties too if the drone contains any U.S. technology. It would have to be approved for export to Russia by Israel's Defense Ministry if the technology is considered dual use — that is could be used for both civilian and military applications. Such approval is necessary to prevent the technology spreading to countries regarded as unfriendly to the US. Past violations have led to the dismissal of senior Israeli officials.
One problem has been solved after a fashion. The Agriculture Ministry bought the Institute a new drone with the funds of course coming from the agriculture budget. The ministry pointed out that Israel would benefit greatly from the deal. Even in the first phase of the agreement Russia will spend $1.5 billion on a pilot project with Israeli companies getting the contracts to build and guide new facilities. The Volcani Institute and Agriculture Ministry would not comment on the matter toHaaretz the Israeli liberal newspaper.
Al Jazeera reports that the drone was made by Alpha Unmanned Systems of Spain, while the thermal camera was from the U.S. company Flir according to the Jerusalem Post. This would explain why the thermal camera was not included but not the remote control. The Ministry of Agriculture claimed that the gift had been approved by "the relevant professional officials". Ariel claims that the gift contains no security risk.
The opposition immediately complained about the gift. Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union said that the minister had been duped into handing "knowledge and technologies to the wrong countries". Stav Shaffir another member from the Union called for Ariel to resign. One report claims that researchers from the Volcani Institute claim that Ariel was not authorized to hand over the drone to the Russians.
One researcher, Moshe Reuveni, said "Ariel violated protocol by giving away technology worth about $100,000 and severely damaging the research". He said that they will hand over the operating system if ordered to but it would sabotage their drone program.

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