Turkey shoots down report of airbase talks with Israel

Israel was said to be seeking a staging ground for Iran attack, in exchange for military technology

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

An Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jet during a training exercise (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
An Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jet during a training exercise (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

Turkey denied on Monday a report from the previous day that said Ankara was involved in discussions to allow Israel to station fighter jets in its territory ahead of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, in exchange for Israeli military technology.

A Turkish official told the Hurriyet Daily News that the Sunday Times report was “a hypothesis” about the “step by step” process of the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations.

“Talking about the prospects of a military cooperation at this stage would be irrelevant,” he added. “We are not there yet. We haven’t even yet appointed a new ambassador to Israel.”

Ties between the two countries soured during Israel’s 2008-2009 operation in Gaza and were de facto severed in the wake of the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals during a takeover of the vessel as it was trying to reach Gaza. Officials on both sides have expressed interest in detente after Israel apologized for the deaths last month, and National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror is currently in Turkey to discuss compensation for flotilla victims.

According to a Sunday Times report, Amidror is expected to offer Turkey advanced missile and surveillance technology in exchange for a base and training facilities at Akinci air base, northwest of Ankara. The move would see a resumption of an arrangement that was established in 1996 and remained in place until the two countries all but cut off relations.

In 2010, Turkey froze some 16 arms deals with Israel worth billions of dollars, including a landmark deal for Israel Aerospace Industries to provide Ankara with 10 drones, according to a report by UPI.

A wary reconciliation between the two former allies was brokered by US President Barack Obama during the final moments of his visit to Israel last month.

Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc told Maariv in an interview published last week that he expected the reconciliation talks to succeed and that “normalization between Israel and Turkey will increase the chances of regional peace.”

Arinc said that Israel’s apology over the flotilla incident and acquiescence to Turkey’s other demands of paying compensation to the families of those who died, as well as easing the blockade on Gaza, have paved the way for re-establishing ties.

On Saturday, however, families of the Marmara victims objected to compensation talks with Israel, saying the Jewish state must first fully lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The relatives also said they would not drop lawsuits filed against former Israeli military commanders they hold responsible for the deaths.

Earlier this month, an Istanbul court heard charges that were filed against four of the most senior retired IDF commanders, including former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, in absentia. Israel has characterized the case as a politically motivated stunt.

Ron Friedman contributed to this report.

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