Israel sends Turks EW systems despite rift

Feb. 19, 2013 at 2:23 PM
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TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Israel's Elta Systems has provided advanced electronic warfare units to Turkey to equip Boeing AWACs aircraft despite a 3-year rift between the onetime strategic allies, suggesting they may be moving toward a reconciliation.

Turkey's Zaman Today newspaper reported the seeming shift in relations, which Israeli sources said was approved by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government due to U.S. pressure to restore the damaged alliance.

Israel's Haaretz daily said Israel's leadership, the defense establishment in particular, has been seeking for some time to find ways of repairing the relationship with Ankara, once a major buyer of Israeli weapons systems and upgrades.

It seems clear this stemmed from growing Israeli concerns about the deteriorating security situation across the region, particularly because of the growing danger of a major conflict, largely sectarian in nature, erupting because of the ferocious civil war in Syria.

The United States, which wants to see a strong anti-Iranian coalition between Israel and Turkey, the two main military powers in the region, has been pressing Israel and Turkey to make up after their May 2010 split.

But in recent months the Boeing Co. has been pushing Israel to fulfill its agreement to provide the combat-tested, state-of-the-art EW systems for the AWACS aircraft.

The Israel-Turkey alliance ruptured after months of growing criticism from Turkey's Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Jewish state's failure to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The alliance collapsed May 31, 2010, after Israeli naval commandoes, in international waters, stormed a Turkish-led flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid across the eastern Mediterranean for the blockaded Gaza Strip. They killed nine Turks aboard the leading Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara.

Ankara demanded a formal apology and compensation. Israel refused, asserting its commandoes acted in self-defense.

At that time, Erdogan's government froze more than a dozen big defense contracts worth billions of dollars with Israel's high-tech defense industry, the most advanced in the region.

That dealt a heavy blow to Israel's defense sector, which like other defense industries in Europe, Russia and the United States have increasingly come to depend on exports as military budgets were heavily cut back.

The Elta deal centers on four 737-700 jetliners Turkey bought from Boeing in 2002 for conversion to airborne early warning aircraft, as Israel had converted Gulfstream G550 executive jets into EW aircraft.

Israel, then Turkey's ally, agreed to provide four EW systems built by Elta, a subsidiary of state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, for the 737s under a $200 million contract with Boeing, at $50 million per system.

The system enables the aircraft to protect themselves from electronic attacks that target its controls during flight.

Boeing delivered the first of the aircraft three years ago and Israel provided two of the EW units in 2011. The other two were delivered recently, Zaman reported.

Pressure on Israel to complete its contractual obligations stemmed in part from Turkey's growing support for the Syrian rebels seeking to oust the minority regime of President Bashar Assad.

This has strained Erdogan's efforts to boost relations with Iran, which is Assad's main ally. Ankara's growing antipathy for Tehran puts it back in line with Israel, Iran's main regional foe.

U.S. officials have been stressing this and the loss of a Turkish F-4 reconnaissance jet in the eastern Mediterranean off the Syrian coast in June 2012, as part of Washington's effort to persuade Israel to complete the Elta deal.

It stretches credulity to argue that installing EW units in the Turkish Boeings could prevent the loss of another F-14 but the U.S. effort underlines the administration's desire to see Turkey and Israel reconciled.

Israel's Defense Ministry declined comment but Israeli sources have been saying for months that it's time relations with Turkey were restored because of the regional turmoil.

As far as is known, the final delivery of the Elta systems was the first such move involving military equipment since the 2010 split.

Whether this will revive deals involving, among other systems, Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles and upgrading Turkish tanks isn't clear.

But the website noted, "There are voices within the Israeli defense establishment calling for an end of the Marmara crisis by finding a formula for an apology, in order to return to the Israeli-Turkish alliance against Syria and Iran."

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