In another possible sign of a thaw in the icy relations between Israel and Turkey, Israel has fixed and returned to Turkey four of the five unmanned aerial Heron drones which were sent to Israel for repairs several years ago.
Ankara purchased the drones several years ago, signing a contract with the Israeli government which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Jerusalem of breaking when the Herons were not promptly fixed and returned to Turkey. “Are they even ethical?” Erdogan asked of Israel last September. “There can be problems amongst people and resentment; they can refrain from meeting with each other. All of this is possible, but when it comes to international agreements, there is an international trade ethic.”
According to a report in the Turkish Sabah daily on Saturday, however, the repair and maintenance work has now been performed on the Israeli-made drones, and they have quietly been returned to Ankara. The first was returned in April, and the other three were sent back a few days ago. A fifth is reportedly still undergoing repair.
On Thursday, Channel 10 News reported that a senior Turkish envoy had been sent to Israel by Erdogan to meet with high-ranking Israeli officials, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to the report, the official was sent to Israel by Erdogan in an attempt to normalize ties between Turkey and Israel.
However, Ankara remains adamant that the full restoration of ties between the two countries is contingent on an Israeli apology for the deaths of eight Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish origin in the raid on the Turkish MV Mavi Marmara in May 2010. The Marmara participated in a flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Netanyahu opposes issuing such an apology, claiming Israel acted in self-defense and within its legal rights, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other ministers reportedly favor a more conciliatory line, because of a desire to rebuild ties to better deal with the threat posed by Iran.
Reports of a warming of ties over one “bird” — the Heron drone — come days after another bird underlined the dire state of Turkish-Israeli relations, and an apparent Turkish readiness to give credibility to even the most outlandish assertions of Israeli iniquity.
Turkish media last week reported that the authorities there were examining the carcass of a European bee-eater on suspicion that the bird was spying for Israel.
Of particular interest to the authorities, the media reports said, were the dead bird’s nostrils, one of which is larger than the other, leading to suspicions that Mossad surveillance equipment was implanted in the beak.
The big-nosed spy-bird saga began when a farmer found the dead Merops Apiaster, or European bee-eater, on his land and alerted authorities after noticing a band inscribed with the word “Israel” on the bird’s leg.
Ornithologist often attach tracking bands to the legs of birds in order to learn about their flight paths and migratory travels.
The Turkish Agriculture Ministry handed over the small corpse to Ankara’s security services for further investigation.