Barak and Turkish DM 248x88.
(photo credit: Defense Ministry )
In an apparent sign that both countries are interested in tamping down recent tensions, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced Thursday that he had accepted an invitation to visit Turkey in January.
Barak's announcement came just two months after Turkey prevented Israeli involvement in a military maneuver, and just a week after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Ankara's reaction would resemble an "earthquake" if Israel violated Turkish airspace to conduct reconnaissance on Iran.
Barak received the invitation from Turkey's envoy to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Ã‡elikkol, during a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Ã‡elikkol conveyed the invitation on behalf of Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul.
Barak last visited Ankara in June 2008.
Barak accepted the invitation, saying that Israel's relations with Turkey were of "strategic importance."
Ã‡elikkol, who recently took over as Ankara's envoy to Israel, met the defense minister as part of a round of introductory meetings he is currently conducting with Israeli leaders.
"Turkey is a key and important player in the region in reference to Israel's relations with its neighbors," Barak said. "Relations with Turkey are important on many different levels."
The invitation was extended following an Israeli initiative, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Defense officials said the groundwork for Barak's visit had been laid by Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who visited Turkey last month.
Barak, speaking to the Labor Party forum in Tel Aviv on Thursday, also said efforts were under way to arrange a meeting between President Shimon Peres and Turkish President Abdullah Gul at the Copenhagen climate conference.
One senior diplomatic official said that while the planned Barak visit was clearly a positive development, Turkey continued to blow "hot and cold" toward Israel. The official said he was sure that Erdogan, when he was in Washington last week, had heard from the US administration and congressional leaders that Washington would like to see Ankara and Jerusalem mend ties.
An official from Barak's office, meanwhile, said, "The Turks are trying to improve their relations with the West, and they realize that deteriorating ties with Israel are not helping them do that."
Days before Ben-Eliezer's visit last month, Gonul had issued an ultimatum to Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems, warning Turkey might cancel a $190 million deal to purchase Israeli Heron drones unless they were delivered within 50 days.
Defense officials said high-level talks had been held since then between the sides, and it was likely that during Barak's trip next month, he and Gonul would announce the resolution of the UAV crisis.
IAI and Elbit won the contract in 2005 and were supposed to deliver 10 Herons almost two years ago. The deal encountered major technical problems when, while IAI and Elbit were manufacturing the drones, a Turkish company was awarded the contract to manufacture the payloads, which were found to be incompatible with the UAVs.