Barak. 'Military deals contribute to the Turks'
Photo: Reuters

Barak urges Turkey to buy arms, curb Israel's foes

Defense minister tells reporters following meeting with Turkish counterpart in Ankara that Israel sees Muslim country 'as a power that projects self-confidence (and) understands the problems of the region well'

Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged Turkey on Tuesday to buy more arms from Israel and work to influence foes of the Jewish state for the sake of Middle East stability.


Muslim but secular Turkey is Israel's most important regional ally. Ties were tested last year by an Israeli air strike in neighboring Syria, seen widely as a possible prelude to a future attack on Iran's nuclear sites.


Ankara has offered to help reconcile Israel with Syria since Israel's inconclusive 2006 war against Hizbullah. Turkey is also keen to defuse an Israeli deadlock with the Palestinians as violence in the Gaza Strip rages.


"We see Turkey as a power that projects self-confidence (and) understands the problems of the region well," Barak told reporters after talks with his Turkish counterpart Vecdi Gonul.


"I reckon that if they (Turks) can contribute to reducing the dangers and increasing the chances (for calm), they will act on this," Barak said, listing Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, and Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers as threats to Israel.


Israeli armed forces have been girding for the possibility of a new war - perhaps in Gaza, where Barak said an offensive could be imminent to stop Palestinian cross-border rocket fire. Turkey has criticized Israel's current tactic of blockading improverished Gaza.


Gonul, citing his government's initiatives to help the Palestinian economy, said "Ankara has invested important efforts so both sides might live in peace". A Turkish diplomat said Barak could receive a "message from Damascus" in meetings with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, but did not elaborate.


Spy satellite

Barak, a former Israeli premier whose tenure ended in 2001 after failed peace negotiations with Syria and Palestinians, declined to discuss the possibility of new mediation.


Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has voiced interest in talking to Damascus but balked at Syrian preconditions such as an Israeli commitment to return the occupied Golan Heights.


Barak said that Israel's military deals with Ankara -- worth an estimated $400 million annually -- "continue to contribute greatly to the Turks and should thus be expanded".


Gonul said Turkey was in talks "at the technical level" on several proposed purchases, including that of state-run Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) Ofek spy satellite.


An Israeli official familiar with the negotiations said they had been going on for several years, with disagreements arising over cost and Israel's demands that a Turkish-owned Ofek would not monitor its nuclear facilities and other sensitive sites.


"The talks have had highs and lows, and personal intervention by Barak or someone similarly senior on the Israeli side might be enough to clinch the deal," the official said, adding that the price of the Ofek was around $300 million.


Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to have built and deployed its own satellites. The first in the Ofek ("Horizon") series was launched in 1988. Ofek-7, billed as Israel's eye on arch-foe Iran's nuclear program, went into orbit last year. Turkey bought several IAI Heron surveillance drones and has voiced interest in Israel's Arrow II anti-missile system.


פרסום ראשון: 02.13.08, 00:50
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