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Israel, Turkey plan joint weapons deals for Azerbaijan

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Monday, February 2, 2004

ANKARA Israel and Turkey are planning joint weapons projects in Central Asia.

Turkish diplomatic and industry sources said Ankara and Jerusalem are discussing the prospect of a weapons sale to Azerbaijan. They said Israel would supply components and technology for the assembly of weapons platforms in Turkey. Turkey would then deliver the weapons to Azerbaijan.

Israel and Turkey have discussed the prospect of joint ventures in Central Asian states. But few deals were reached and governments in the region have preferred to deal directly with Israeli suppliers.

Azerbaijan could be the first major market for a joint Israeli-Turkish arms effort. On Jan. 9, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul discussed a range of cooperation during his two-day visit to Baku, Middle East Newsline reported.

Baku has retained Israeli contractors for security systems, particularly in airport and border security. Azerbaijan's military has also sought help from Israel and Turkey amid a deterioration in Baku's relations with Iran that stems from a dispute over the energy-rich Caspian Sea.

"At any rate, Israel has agreed to sell its military equipment -- assembled in Turkey -- to Central Asia and the South Caucasus," the Baku-based Zerkalo reported on Jan. 7. "Should the Azerbaijani authorities and Gul agree on this, Israel will start supplying military equipment to Azerbaijan."

Turkey could sell its aging systems to Azerbaijan as Ankara implements its military modernization program. Israel and Turkey were also said to have been discussing the upgrade of Soviet-origin equipment in Azerbaijan's military.

On Thursday, the Ankara-based Hurriyet daily reported that Turkey's deputy military chief of staff visited Israel on an unannounced trip.

Hurriet said the deputy chief was accompanied by a 45-member delegation from the Defense Ministry and state-owned defense companies. Hurriet said the meeting discussed cooperation in military and defense cooperation as well as intelligence exchange.

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