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Turkey's military ties with Israel gained further momentum Thursday with the visit of IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to Ankara. The visit took place just days after Turkish Air Force Commander General Faruk Comert's visit to Tel Aviv, while Turkish Naval Forces Commander Admiral Yener Karahanoglu is preparing to travel to Israel in coming weeks.
During a one-day working visit to Ankara, Halutz met with his Turkish counterpart Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, and discussed common concerns such as Islamist terrorism and Iran's suspicious nuclear activities.
A briefing presented by the Turkish military laid out Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles (the Shihab 4 and 5) which could reach Turkish territory. Halutz was told that Iran causes uncertainty and risk for Turkey as well as the region. However, the Turkish military warned that any IDF plan to intervene in Iran would be very risky for the future of the volatile Middle East, and that diplomacy should be the preferred solution. Therefore, the international community should step up pressure on Iran to give up these dangerous attempts, members of the Turkish General Staff added.
Sources in Ankara told The Jerusalem Post that intelligence data indicates that Teheran is developing new versions of the Shihab missiles, such as the Shihab 4 and 5, that would even be capable of hitting Ankara.
"Teheran's suspicious nuclear activities, which we consider threatening, might increase tensions in the region. We voiced this concern during talks with our Israeli guest" said a high level Turkish military source.
During talks, Turkey and Israel also agreed to continue joint military exercises (the Reliant Mermaid maneuvers) and to use intelligence satellites more effectively to monitor Islamist terrorist activities in the region. The IDF will also supply Turkey with high-tech survelliance equipments to more effectively cover Turkey's problematic border with Iraq, where seperatist Kurdish operatives have been infiltrating Turkish territory to carry out attacks.
Turkey's deep military and economic relations with Israel, as well as common interests, are based on billions of dollars' worth of joint tenders and strategic cooperation. The two nations signed two military cooperation accords in 1996, which drew harsh criticism from Muslim countries. Israel is currently upgrading 170 Turkish M-60 tanks, 54 F-4 fighter planes, and 48 F-5s under a multi-billion dollar agreement, in addition to a number of military activities including the exchange of pilots, mutual visits, and joint military maneuvers.