(photo credit: KKL)
growing tension between the countries, Defense Minister Ehud Barak
heads to Ankara on Sunday in an attempt to salvage Israel's diplomatic
and military alliance with Turkey.
Officials said that during
the 12-hour visit, Barak and his Turkish counterpart, Vecdi Gonul, will
likely announce the finalization a long-delayed multimillion dollar
deal for the delivery of 10 unmanned aerial vehicles to Turkey. Last
week, incoming Defense Ministry director-general Udi Shani led a
delegation to Turkey to discuss the sale.
The $185 million
project was initiated in 2005 but was under the threat of cancellation
and the cause of rising tension between the countries after the Israel
Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems Ltd. Heron UAVs were found to be
incompatible with the payloads made by a Turkish company.
officials were reportedly in Israel over the weekend to assess the
UAVs, which, if found operational would be delivered to Turkey by
mid-2010. IAI and Elbit are reportedly paying $12m. in compensation for
the delays in delivery of the six remaining UAVs.
bring a large delegation and with a beefed-up security detail. He will
meet with Gonul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. He will also lay
a wreath at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the
Turkish republic and its first president.
Barak will be the most
senior Israeli official to visit Turkey since Operation Cast Lead,
during which ties with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became
Defense officials said that Barak would discuss a wide
range of issues with the Turkish officials, including the Palestinian
peace process, Syria and Iran, as well as ways to renew defense ties
between the countries. Before Cast Lead, IDF troops and aircraft
regularly trained in Turkey, but they have not done so since the
offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
Ahead of Barak's visit, an
Islamic human rights group petitioned a Turkish prosecutor to start
legal proceedings against the defense minister for alleged crimes
committed against Palestinians during Cast Lead. The Turkish
authorities did not act on Friday's petition by the Istanbul-based
Mazlum-Der group and the Justice Ministry in Ankara has previously
rejected similar appeals against Israeli officials.
a new low last week after Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon dressed
down Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol, and later had to apologize for
the affair amid threats that the envoy would be recalled.
"We are trying to get relations back on track," one official explained.
finalization of the UAV deal comes after the Defense Ministry concluded
a record-breaking year in defense sales that reached a whopping $6.75
billion. In 2008, sales totalled $6.3b.
Defense officials said that the largest customer was the United States, followed by Asia, Europe and Africa.