Barak heads to Turkey to close UAV deal

Defense minister, delegation hope to mend ties with Ankara on visit.

Planting top2 (photo credit: KKL)
Planting top2
(photo credit: KKL)
Amidgrowing tension between the countries, Defense Minister Ehud Barakheads to Ankara on Sunday in an attempt to salvage Israel's diplomaticand military alliance with Turkey.
Officials said that duringthe 12-hour visit, Barak and his Turkish counterpart, Vecdi Gonul, willlikely announce the finalization a long-delayed multimillion dollardeal for the delivery of 10 unmanned aerial vehicles to Turkey. Lastweek, incoming Defense Ministry director-general Udi Shani led adelegation to Turkey to discuss the sale.
The $185 millionproject was initiated in 2005 but was under the threat of cancellationand the cause of rising tension between the countries after the IsraelAerospace Industries and Elbit Systems Ltd. Heron UAVs were found to beincompatible with the payloads made by a Turkish company.
Turkishofficials were reportedly in Israel over the weekend to assess theUAVs, which, if found operational would be delivered to Turkey bymid-2010. IAI and Elbit are reportedly paying $12m. in compensation forthe delays in delivery of the six remaining UAVs.
Barak willbring a large delegation and with a beefed-up security detail. He willmeet with Gonul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. He will also laya wreath at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of theTurkish republic and its first president.
Barak will be the mostsenior Israeli official to visit Turkey since Operation Cast Lead,during which ties with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan becamestrained.
Defense officials said that Barak would discuss a widerange of issues with the Turkish officials, including the Palestinianpeace process, Syria and Iran, as well as ways to renew defense tiesbetween the countries. Before Cast Lead, IDF troops and aircraftregularly trained in Turkey, but they have not done so since theoffensive against Hamas in Gaza.
Ahead of Barak's visit, anIslamic human rights group petitioned a Turkish prosecutor to startlegal proceedings against the defense minister for alleged crimescommitted against Palestinians during Cast Lead. The Turkishauthorities did not act on Friday's petition by the Istanbul-basedMazlum-Der group and the Justice Ministry in Ankara has previouslyrejected similar appeals against Israeli officials.
Ties reacheda new low last week after Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon dresseddown Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol, and later had to apologize forthe affair amid threats that the envoy would be recalled.
"We are trying to get relations back on track," one official explained.
Thefinalization of the UAV deal comes after the Defense Ministry concludeda record-breaking year in defense sales that reached a whopping $6.75billion. In 2008, sales totalled $6.3b.
Defense officials said that the largest customer was the United States, followed by Asia, Europe and Africa.