Israel and Turkey meet to bolster defense ties

ANKARA, Turkey — Israeli and Turkish defense ties have been strengthened, as Israel Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai visited here this week. The meeting paved the way for lucrative weapons contracts and won Israel a commitment to enhance the strategic alliance between the two countries.

"We are surrounded by regimes with various problems. Israel and Turkey are two islands of stability which must be preserved together," Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Ismail Karadayi told Mordechai.

"There are lots of issues where we can cooperate. We are fully satisfied with the military and defense industry cooperation between us. There will always be nations against our cooperation, but we are interested in deepening and strengthening it," he said.

Mordechai, the first Israeli defense minister to visit Turkey, replied to Karadayi that Israel was willing to share with it advanced weapons technology to combat the joint threats.

"When we lock hands, we form a powerful fist," Mordechai said.

The visit took place in the shadow of the Islamic conference in Tehran, which is expected to condemn the Turkish-Israeli relationship.

In Washington, meanwhile, the State Department welcomed Turkish-Israeli statements on military cooperation, saying they demonstrate Israel's continued integration in the Middle East.

"We think that Israel's integration into the region is part and parcel of what we think needs to happen in order for there to be an overall settlement of the Middle East problem. So that's something that obviously we've been encouraging for quite some time now," State Department spokesman James Foley told reporters Monday.

Foley would not comment on the declaration expected to be issued in Tehran denouncing the cooperation.

Mordechai repeatedly stressed throughout that the defense cooperation between Israel and Turkey was not directed at any third party.

Mordechai said that the current upgrade by Israel of 54 Turkish Air Force F-4 jets was on schedule, noting that the cash-flow problems at Israel Aircraft Industries had been solved. Israel is the leading contender to upgrade 48 F-5 jets in a deal worth about $100 million, Mordechai told reporters.

Israel also is offering to upgrade Turkey's aging M-60 battle tanks and sell Turkey anti-tank missiles, the air-to-ground Popeye missile and the Galil assault rifle.

Turkey faces a growing missile threat not only from Iran and Syria, but also from Greek Cyprus, which is planning to buy S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, which Turkish officials claim can be converted to ground-to-ground missiles.

Faced with a similar missile threat as Israel, Turkey is interested in acquiring the Homa anti-ballistic missile defense system, including the Arrow missile, Turkish and Israeli defense sources said.

Mordechai dismissed fears that advanced Israeli weapons technology could find itself in hostile hands, saying that top-of-the-line weapons could be bought elsewhere, and if Israel sold the weapons it could have better control over them.

The Turkish-Israel strategic talks, which take place every six months, are to be held late December in Ankara.

Israel, Turkey and the United States are slated to conduct joint naval maneuvers in January. According to the Turkish Daily News, the five-day rescue exercise, dubbed "Reliant Mermaid," will begin on January 5.