|Scooped by Frédéric Suffert|
Israel's Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel thought it would be a nice going-away present for visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev: an unmanned helicopter used for agricultural research. Now it emerges that Israel may run into trouble with the United States for handing over the aircraft, if it is proved that it has been developed with American technology. Moreover, a diplomatic tiff may be brewing as well with Moscow, since the helicopter was given to the Russians without some of its technological features (...).
It seems that the unmanned aircraft wasn’t actually Ariel’s to give – it belongs to Volcani, not the Agriculture Ministry – and its value exceeds by a factor of more than 60 the sum that government officials are allowed to spend on official presents. When Russian officials came to collect the helicopter, they were left waiting impatiently until the flustered Volcani staff received permission from an unnamed official to release it (...).
Apparently the staff refused to hand over the remote-control equipment and a thermal camera, costing an estimated 100,000 shekels ($26,000), which the institute had installed on the aircraft. The Russians have already asked Volcani for these parts and if they do not receive them, the newly inked agricultural deal with Israel may be at risk. At the same time, there could be trouble if the aircraft is found to be equipped with American technology that has not been approved for export to Russia by Israel's Defense Ministry. Equipment that is considered to be "dual use" – that is, to have both civilian and military applications – must be approved for exports in advance by the ministry (...).
Such approval is intended to prevent advanced technology developed by America and other countries from reaching unfriendly nations, and/or from being re-exported in some fashion in another product without formal permission. In the past such violations have led to the dismissal of senior Israeli officials, including a Defense Ministry director general. “This is a completely ridiculous story,” said an Israeli official, who asked not to be named. After news of the affair leaked, the Agriculture Ministry agreed to buy the institute a new drone – that is, at the Israeli taxpayers’ expense.