Turkey threatens to cancel drones deal

Turkey issues ultimatum

In a sign of further tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul issued an ultimatum on Saturday to Israeli industries, demanding they supply 10 long-awaited unmanned aerial vehicles to his country's military within 50 days. CNN Turk quoted Gonul as saying that he had sent a letter to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems to fulfill the $183 million deal - signed in 2005 - within 50 days. If the UAVs were not supplied, Gonul said he would cancel the tender. The ultimatum comes a month after the Turkish military canceled a scheduled aerial drill with the Israel Air Force days before it was supposed to begin. Ties between Jerusalem and Ankara have grown tenuous following Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, which elicited harsh criticism from Turkish leaders. "If this letter does not bear fruit either, the tender may be canceled. But there is no cancellation at the moment," Gonul was quoted as saying. Officials involved in the deal said on Saturday that an IAI and Elbit team flew to Ankara last week and held talks with Turkish defense officials. The Israeli defense industries will likely succeed in supplying the 10 UAVs in the coming weeks. Israeli officials said that the delays were the result of Turkish demands to install additional technology on the aircraft that is too heavy for them to carry. IAI and Elbit usually sell their UAVs with electro-optic sensors, but in this case the Turks wanted to install their own systems that turned out to be weightier than the permitted payload. On Sunday, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer will fly to Ankara for talks with Gonul, in an effort to secure the deal and alleviate tensions between the countries. He will be accompanied by 20 leading businessman, including representatives of Israeli defense industries. "Turkey has a very special place in my heart and special relationship with Israel," Ben-Eliezer said. "As a democratic, Muslim country, Turkey has the ability to bridge the gaps between us and our neighbors and help promote normalization and coexistence in the region."