Israeli minister impulsively gifts research drone to Russia

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli government minister’s impulsive gifting to Russia of a drone used for agricultural research could land him in trouble with the United States.

Russia isn’t very happy either after the drone was turned over to them without some of its software and other features.

Israeli Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel offered the piece of equipment to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week while the Russian leader was on a visit to Israel. He reportedly was playing with the drone’s controls when Ariel made the offer of the gift.

The unmanned research helicopter owned the government’s Volcani Institute, valued at about $50,000 is designed to carry thermal and infrared cameras capable of providing complex images of the actual uptake of water and water-borne materials such as pesticides by crops and trees after irrigation. Its data helps in water conservation.

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Haaretz reported that Volcani turned the aircraft over to the Russians without the operating system and the remote control, angering Russian officials, who have threatened to scupper a newly signed $15 billion agricultural deal with Israel over it. It was the only scientific research helicopter of its kind in the country.

It is not known if any American technology was used in the drone, which would have required U.S. permission to be turned over to the Russians.

Ariel also violated a government regulation which states that government ministers can only give gifts to visitor  from abroad of up to 300 shekels, which is less than $100. In some cases a gift can be worth up to 700 shekels, but requires permission from the particular ministry’s director general.

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