Israel, Turkey close to drones deal

TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Despite damaged ties, Turkey and Israel say that a controversial drones contract will go ahead by March.

Israel will send four Heron unmanned aerial vehicles to Turkey within two months as part of a consignment of 10 drones purchased by the Turkish government, Turkish daily Zaman reported citing unnamed officials.


Turkey awarded the lucrative contract five years ago, placing the order with Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit.

The contract deadline was initially set at between 24 and 30 months. But both contracts missed the first deadline, breaching, also, a follow-up delivery date for the dispatch of four Herons last August.

With the deal dogged by delays, the Turkish government threatened to pull the plug on the order, saying it would seek financial damages from the Israeli contractors.

In December, however, Ankara announced its intention to speed up the deal, estimated at nearly $200 million.

This week local media reported that Turkish experts were in Israel to test the drones.

Should the systems pass the test, some of the drones are set to be deployed along Turkey's southeastern province of Batman, on the border with Iraq, for additional tests.


News of the revived deal, however, comes hot on the heels of a visit by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Turkey intended to mend ties after a diplomatic fallout spawning from the televised humiliation of Turkey's ambassador by the Israeli foreign minister.

Israelis also have been angered by two Turkish television dramas showing their soldiers as murderers of Palestinian children and their diplomats as masterminds of a kidnapping ring.

Still, even before the diplomatic fallout, the drones purchase had already frozen because of Turkish outrage over Israel's offensive in late 2008.

"There have also been technical disagreements between Jerusalem and Ankara between the sides, with Israel claiming that the Turkish buyers insist on installing surveillance cameras too heavy for the UAVs," said Israeli daily Haaretz.

Muslim but secular Turkey has had a strong history of military cooperation with Israel. It has also acted as an intermediary for the Jewish state with the Arab world.

"I believe things are being patched up," an unidentified Israeli official told Haaretz. "A compensation fee has also been paid."

The amount of the fine was not immediately known, although officials from both sides had hinted earlier this year that compensation would take on the form of services and equipment, rather than money.


While the bulk of the project rests with IAI and Elbit, Turkish Aerospace Industry is the Heron program's prime contractor.

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