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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Government in Turkey turns squeamish on defense ties with Israel

ANKARA — The increasingly Islamist leadership in Turkey has been placed on the defenseive by the parliament over extensive defense relations with Israel.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has denied signing weapons deals with Israel during its invasion of the Gaza Strip, following condemnations of the Jewish state.

"There are no contracts or agreements in the time being with the Israeli side," Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said.

Gonul and other senior officials have been questioned by parliament over reports of an Israeli-Turkish defense project, Middle East Newsline reported. Under the reported $160 million deal, Israel would supply airborne reconnaissance systems to Turkey's military.

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"This was years ago, and its articles are irrelevant to the regrettable developments in Gaza," Gonul said on Jan. 6.

Turkey's media have reported that Israel and Turkey were engaged in $1.8 billion of defense projects in 2007. The projects were said to include unmanned aerial vehicles, airborne systems and a main battle tank upgrade.

"No military agreement was signed [with Israel] during our governments," Gonul said.

The Israeli-Hamas war has sparked condemnations of the Jewish state by Erdogan and parliament. Over the last week, hundreds of Turkish parliamentarians have resigned from a friendship association with Israel.

At the same time, Turkey has been cooperating in U.S.-led efforts to block weapons shipments to and from Iran. Ankara has reported seizing an Iranian shipment to Venezuela believed to contain equipment that could produce explosives. The shipment was seized in the Mediterranean port of Mersin.

"Experts from Turkey's Atomic Institute determined there were no traces of radioactive material, but said the equipment was sufficient to establish an explosives lab," Suleiman Tosun, a Turkish customs official, said. "We have asked the military to send experts to determine whether to resume the shipment."

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