Turkey nixes air force's satellite offer

Officials say decision, made due to no-spying clause, won't harm close bilateral ties.

Ofek 7 298.88 (photo credit: IAI)
Ofek 7 298.88
(photo credit: IAI)
Refusing to accept a condition not to spy on Israel, the Turkish Defense Ministry turned down a proposal by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to purchase a model of its advanced Ofek satellite. Turkey's top procurement body, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, decided last week after months of negotiations not to accept the IAI offer due to a restriction the Israeli Defense Ministry inserted into the deal, according to which Turkey would not be allowed to use the satellite over Israeli airspace. The decision to nix the Israeli proposal is expected to come up in talks Defense Minister Ehud Barak will hold with Turkish officials when he is scheduled to visit Ankara in January. Defense officials said that Israel's restriction of not using the satellite over its airspace was common practice in satellite sales. Israeli satellites are installed with a device that does not allow them to take pictures of sites in the US. "This is acceptable in negotiations," a senior official said. "This does not mean that the deal is over and it could be that they are trying to pressure us into making a better offer." Talks over the possible purchase of a satellite, a deal valued at $250 million, will continue between Turkey and three European bidders - Italy's Tele Spazio, Germany's Ohb-Systems and Britain's EADS Astrium. IAI is in the process of supplying Turkey with its advanced and long-range Heron unmanned aerial vehicle. Israeli defense officials expressed disappointment over the loss of the deal but stopped short of saying that Ankara's refusal to accept the condition not to spy on Israel would spoil Israeli-Turkish relations. The officials said IAI still had a chance and that talks with Turkey over the sale would continue in an informal manner. In November, The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel and Turkey were holding high-level talks over the possible sale of a model of the Ofek spy satellite as well as the Arrow ballistic missile defense system. Israeli defense officials said Turkey was interested in acquiring a missile defense system in the face of Iran's race toward nuclear power. The sale of an Ofek satellite - Israel launched the Ofek 7 in June - would dramatically increase Turkish intelligence-gathering capabilities, since today Turkey does not have its own spy satellites.