Turkey demands Israel deliver drones

Nov. 25, 2009 at 10:55 AM
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ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Turkey has warned Israeli defense contractors to deliver on 10 promised drone aircraft in 50 days or the deal may be canceled.

Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said this week that he had sent a letter to Israel Aerospace Industries and Israel's Elbit defense contractor insisting that the unmanned aerial vehicles be delivered by the end of the year.

"If this letter does not bear fruit either, then the tender may be canceled," the minister told CNN Turk. "There is no cancellation at the moment," he added.

Turkey awarded the contract four years ago. It entails the purchase of 10 drones known as Herons from their manufacturers, Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit.

The contract deadline was initially set at between 24 and 30 months. But both contractors missed the first date, also breaching another deadline for the delivery of four Herons in August. Under the revised deal, delivery of another two drones would have followed, plus the last four by the end of October.

The deal is estimated at $185 million.

Turkey's Zaman newspaper reported recently that Israel was set to make good on its arms contract, pledging to deliver the weapons by the end of the year.

But should Turkey fail, the deal may be canceled and Ankara may demand punitive damages.

"Turkey plans to impose a heavy monetary penalty on Israel for the delay," a senior Turkish official was quoted saying in the Zaman report. "If this country refuses to comply with the penalty, then Turkey will head to the International Court of Commercial Arbitration," he added, saying that the penalty could range between $3 million and $4 million.

Turkey recently returned two drones because of what military officials called their lagging performance.

The military brass there sanctioned the Israeli purchase after the United States refused to sell it similar equipment for fear of them being used against Kurdish rebels.

Both nations have since then traded accusations as to the source of the blame for the drone delay.

Specifically, Israeli companies have complained that the Turkish go-between contractor, Aslan, was responsible because of problems in the camera it had been ordered to fit on the drones.

According to Israel's Haaretz daily, "The camera was too heavy and prevented the drone from reaching an altitude of 30,000 feet in keeping with the project prospectus."

Turkish counterclaims, however, accuse the Israeli contractors of raising technical excuses to "avoid fine for violating the agreement," Haaretz said.

Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have been strained since the Gaza War, with Turkey accusing Israel of waging war crimes in its offensive. The rancor reached a peak during a public debate between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

After both leaders traded insults, Erdogan angrily stormed offstage in response.

The strained relations have also taken a toll on the two countries' military alliance.

Last month, for example, Turkey prevented Israel from joining a NATO-alliance military exercise that was ultimately canceled due to Israel's exclusion.

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