Israel is providing advanced electronic warfare systems for aircraft to Turkey, a fulfillment of an earlier order that was put on hold in the wake of the infamous Mavi Marmara incident in 2010. It is the first instance of a military equipment exchange between Jerusalem and Ankara since then.
Turkey’s Today’s Zaman reported the sale, which will significantly beef up Ankara’s intelligence capabilities, and the aircraft upgrade was confirmed by senior Israeli sources Monday. A source said the deal was approved due to US pressure and Israel’s desire to restore its damaged relationship with Turkey, amid escalating tension between Ankara and Tehran over the Syrian conflict, according to the Hebrew daily Haaretz.
The Syrian civil war has posed additional security challenges for Turkey. In October 2012, five Turkish civilians were killed by Syrian fire, sparking fears that Ankara would be dragged into the regional conflict. Turkey vowed to respond harshly, and it deployed extra jets to its border with Syria in the weeks after the incident.
The electronic systems are to be integrated into the Turkish Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) military aircraft that were purchased from the US in the early 2000s. The system enables the planes to protect themselves from electronic attacks that target its controls during flight, Today’s Zaman reported.
In 2002, Boeing won a $200 million contract to supply Turkey with the four AWACS aircraft — and a $25 million contract to integrate electronic warning systems into the four planes was then won by ELTA, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries. Boeing supplied the planes to Turkey three years ago. Israel’s fulfillment of the order, however, was halted after it delivered two of the electronic systems in 2011, in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident.
News about the weapons deal comes less than three months after media reports surfaced that Ankara and Jerusalem were engaging in secret back-channel reconciliation talks despite heightened tensions over Operation Pillar of Defense. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu confirmed that the two countries were trying to find ways to end their diplomatic impasse.
Relations between former close allies Turkey and Israel soured after nine pro-Palestinian activists — eight Turks and a Turkish-American — were killed by Israeli troops aboard the Mavi Marmara vessel, which was part of an international flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade, on May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos commandeered the vessel and were attacked by activists.
Turkey has demanded a formal apology, compensation for victims and the families of the dead, and for the Gaza blockade to be lifted.
Israel has resisted Turkish demands to apologize for the raid on the ship and to compensate those killed as a precondition for normalizing relations. Israel — stressing that its solders were attacked with clubs and poles by violent thugs aboard the vessel, and insisting that its blockade against Gaza, which is run by the terror group Hamas, is legal — has said it “regrets” the loss of life, rather than issuing a full apology, and has offered to pay into what it called a “humanitarian fund” through which casualties and relatives could be compensated.
Turkey disputes Israeli assertions that its soldiers acted in self-defense. The commando operation sparked worldwide condemnation and led to an easing of Israel’s blockade on the the Gaza Strip. A UN report on the Mavi Marmara incident released in 2011 concluded that Israel had used unreasonable force in stopping the ship, but that the blockade on Gaza was legal.