Israel may reject Turkish arms request

Concerns also mount over economic ties, although officials say no deals have been canceled as yet.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
February 1, 2009 23:49
3 minute read.
Israel may reject Turkish arms request

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As Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations continue to crumble, the close ties between the two countries in other areas are being reexamined as well. The Defense Ministry is considering rejecting a number of requests by Turkey to purchase advanced Israeli-made military platforms, officials told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. The IDF and the Turkish military enjoy strong ties, but there is growing concern in Israel that the military could be losing its power and influence within and over the government. "Turkey is eyeing moderate Arab countries and is hoping to strengthen its ties with them," one senior defense official explained. "Just like we don't sell advanced military platforms to Jordan and Egypt, we may decide not to sell to Turkey." According to officials, several Turkish requests recently submitted to the Defense Ministry's Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SIBAT) will need to be reviewed due to the change in political ties between Jerusalem and Ankara. The officials would not reveal which new military platforms Turkey had requested. The defense establishment is concerned that the diplomatic crisis with Turkey may also lead Ankara to annul an arrangement allowing the Israel Air Force to train and fly in Turkish airspace. "No one knows yet how this will affect our relationship on a defense level," explained one official. "We need to wait to see how this plays out." While defense officials reconsider the country's military ties to the Turkish state, other government officials worry about the significant business ties between the two economies. Non-military trade accounts for almost $4 billion annually, 60 percent of it in Turkish exports to Israel. Tourism is another enormous source of revenue for the Turkish economy, with 580,000 Israelis visiting Turkey last year according to government figures. Since the start of the diplomatic row over Operation Cast Lead, flight bookings to Turkey have dropped by 70%. However, "despite all the talk, no joint economic initiatives between the two states have been canceled," a senior Israeli diplomatic official told the Post Sunday. In particular, plans for a joint Israeli-Turkish infrastructure and energy corridor between the ports of Ceyhan and Haifa are still under way. "But people are starting to talk about the direction Turkey is taking," the official added. Politically, "Turkey's natural inclination is not toward Iran and Syria, but toward Europe and the US. Turkey wants to have regional influence - what could offer this more than a real role as a mediator between warring parties in the region?" asked the official. That mediating role has been severely damaged by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's excoriation of the Jewish State during the three weeks of fighting in Gaza. A senior diplomatic official told the Post over the weekend that Erdogan, and Turkey under his leadership, had "lost all credibility as an honest broker" in regional negotiations. In the field of defense, two Israeli companies most likely to lose out from a collapse in ties are Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. In December, subsidiaries of IAI and Elbit Systems signed a $140 million deal to supply the Turkish Air Force with targeting pods. Israeli Military Industries (IMI) recently completed a $700m. deal signed several years ago with Turkey to upgrade the country's fleet of aging Patton-series M60 tanks. IAI also recently supplied Turkey with its advanced long-range Heron unmanned aerial vehicle. Sources in defense industries expressed hope that the crisis with Ankara would pass and would not have a negative impact on sales to Turkey. "Despite the soured diplomatic ties, there are very good relations between the two militaries," explained one official. "Israel has several contracts with Turkey that have been signed, and there is no reason to believe that they will not be upheld."

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