Israeli minister impulsively gifts $50,000 research drone to Russia


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.

Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel offered the unmanned research helicopter to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week while the Russian leader was visiting Israel. Medvedev reportedly was playing with the drone’s controls when Ariel made the offer of the gift.

But the drone, which is owned by the Israeli government’s Volcani Institute, was turned over without some of its software and other features, angering Russian officials, who have threatened to scupper a newly signed $15 billion agricultural deal with Israel, Haaretz reported. It was the only scientific research helicopter of its kind in Israel.

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.

The drone, which is 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.

Ariel also violated a government regulation stating 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 ministry’s director general.

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