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Military cooperation back on the agenda as Turkey, Israel talk

Military cooperation back on the agenda as Turkey, Israel talk

 Military cooperation back on agenda as Turkey, Israel talk

 Ankara is looking to revive military cooperation with Israel and looks forward to purchasing key technologies like advanced UAVs and reconnaissance and surveillance systems from Tel Aviv, sources told Today's Zaman. 

To the dismay and protest of regional countries and its Arab allies, Turkey in the mid-1990s cultivated closer ties with Israel on the military front and carried out joint modernization programs with the Israeli military. Facing an embargo from Western countries over reports of human rights abuses in its fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Southeast during the tumultuous 1990s, Turkey turned to Israel to reinforce its depleted arsenal and bought much-needed military equipment. At the time, Turkey found in Israel a reliable ally to count on and signed treaties in military cooperation, a development during the Welfare Party (RP)-led government in 1997 that sent alarm bells across capitals in the region. 

The close relationship was most evident and visible when Israeli pilots were trained in Turkish airspace, using an air base in Konya. The relationship took a dramatic turn, however, when Israeli navy forces cracked down on activists on the Mavi Marmara ship bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza in 2010. 

The raid left 10 people dead and plunged Turkish-Israeli relations to their lowest level in recent decades. The efforts to bring relations back on course have yet to yield tangible results. 

In 2013, US President Barack Obama brokered an Israeli apology, a key demand of Turkey before normalizing ties. Ankara's insistence on an end to the Gaza blockade by Israel and disagreements over the amount of money to be paid to the families of victims as compensation have remained blocks before the restoration of ties. 

With recent talks to re-establish ties having gained new momentum, Turkish officials and their Israeli counterparts are already speaking about projects that would transport gas from Israel to Turkey. 

Defense sources said military-to-military cooperation is another dimension that would boost relations and Ankara is eager to continue to work with Israel in that field. 

To that effect, Turkish authorities are contemplating reviving several projects that were postponed after the Mavi Marmara incident. The Israeli Defense Ministry canceled the license of Israeli defense firms IAI and Elbit for selling advanced intelligence systems to the Turkish Air Force (THK) after the Mavi Marmara incident. Ankara retaliated by canceling other defense contracts and Turkish defense company ASELSAN took its money back from a deal with two Israeli firms. 

The THK struck a deal worth $165 million with Israeli firms IAI and Elbit in 2008 to modernize its aging F-4 fleet by placing advanced reconnaissance and surveillance systems on jets. A year later, Turkey paid Israeli companies $55 million before the project was completed. When the project was called off, the Turkish Ministry of Defense demanded its money be returned. 

Another crisis that crippled the Turkish military's efforts in the fight against terrorism is the breakdown in cooperation over UAVs. Turkey in the mid-2000s bought a number of Heron UAVs and began operating them from a ground station in the Southeast. When relations broke down after the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey faced significant setbacks in operating the UAVs. Turkey currently has one ground station and is only able to operate three Herons at the same time. 

The military wants to fly all of them whenever it needs and is seeking to overcome the problem that is hampering its efforts to gather intelligence to spot PKK targets in mountainous areas. 

Another problem the military faces is technical problems associated with the Herons. Whenever one of the Herons has a technical error and is unable to fly, Turkey had to send it back to Israel to be fixed. But due to the lingering political crisis between the two countries, Israel has either dragged its feet on fixing the problems or even refused to do so. 

Source: Zaman 25.12.2015