Israel 'cuts arms sales to Turkey'

April 26, 2010 at 12:19 PM
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TEL AVIV, Israel, April 26 (UPI) -- Israel will impose a temporary freeze on the sale of advanced weapons systems to Turkey, once a key ally, because of blistering criticism of the Jewish state by Turkey's Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Jane's Defense Weekly reports.

The latest outburst from Erdogan, who has been moving closer to Iran, came April 7 in Paris when he branded the Jewish state "the principal threat to regional peace" in the Middle East.

Meantime, the Israeli air force, blocked from Turkish air space and bracing for possible long-range attacks on Iran's nuclear infrastructure, is scouting for new training skies in Europe and Asia.

India has close military ties with Israel and that is being mooted as one option for the Israeli air force.

Jane's reported that the arms exporting arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry has ruled it will evaluate Turkish requests for Israeli-made weapons and equipment on a case-by-case basis.

One issue under review by the ministry's Foreign Defense Assistance and Export Organization, known by its Hebrew acronym, SIBAT, is a Turkish request for Israeli electronic warfare systems, the London magazine reported.

Turkey's military has also shown interest in the Spike anti-tank missile manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the Barak-8 naval air-defense missile produced by state-run Israel Aerospace Industry.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been steadily deteriorating since the Israeli military invaded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Dec. 27, 2008, ostensibly to stifle rocket attacks, and fought a 22-day war before withdrawing Jan. 18, 2009, in the face of international condemnation.

Some 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the all-arms onslaught. Israeli casualties were 13 killed, nine of them soldiers.

That effectively ended a landmark 1996 military cooperation agreement, which covered a wide range of intelligence-sharing, between Israel and Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation and NATO's only Muslim member.

Israel's defense industry benefited from big-ticket sales to Turkey over the years.

Relations soured even further over delays by Israel in delivering six Heron unmanned aerial vehicles ordered by Turkey under a 2005 contract for 10 of the surveillance drones. IAI, Israeli defense manufacturer Elbit and Turkish Aerospace Industries were partners in the $183 million deal.

Jane's Defense Weekly reported that despite the nosedive in diplomatic relations, Israel and Turkey have maintained "a cautious business relationship" and discussed the joint sale of upgraded U.S.-built M-60 main battle tanks to Colombia.

Israel Military Industries and Arselan of Turkey delivered the last of 170 upgraded General Dynamics M-60A1 tanks to Turkey's army on April 7. Jane's Defense Weekly said a senior Colombian general attended the handover ceremony.

Erdogan's government excluded Israel from routine NATO air exercises last October in Turkey in reprisal for the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip the previous winter. It later banned Israeli aircraft from deploying in Turkey, where the Israeli air force, constrained by the Jewish state's small size, regularly conducted exercises in Turkey's extensive air space and varied terrain.

This lack of air space apparently has hampered air force training for possible long-range airstrikes against Iran, whose alleged nuclear arms program is viewed by Israel as an existential threat.

In recent years, the air force has intensified its long-range training schedule, presumably because of the growing threat from Iran.

The most prominent of these operations was a May 2008 exercise in which some 100 Israeli warplanes, including aerial tankers and command aircraft, flew the length of the Mediterranean from Greece to Gibraltar in what was widely seen as a dress rehearsal for an assault on Iran.

"We're looking for new places where we can fly," a senior air force officer told The Jerusalem Post.

"As a result," the newspaper reported, "the Defense Ministry is looking to continue an agreement it signed in 2006 that allows fighter jets to deploy in Romania.

"The (Israeli air force) sent jets to Romania for training in 2007 and plans to deploy aircraft there again later this year."

Two Israeli air force Gulfstream G-500 Shavit electronic intelligence aircraft were spotted over Hungary in March in what may have been an Israeli air exercise in Europe. The appearance of the aircraft caused a political controversy and the head of the air traffic department at Hungary's Transportation Ministry was subsequently dismissed.

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