‘Israel seeks Turkish airbase to enable Iran strike’

Ron Friedman — Times of Israel April 21, 2013

When National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror arrives in Turkey on Sunday to discuss compensation for flotilla victims, he will also be seeking to lay the groundwork for the stationing of Israeli fighter jets in an airbase near Ankara, ahead of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Sunday Times reported.

“Until the recent crisis, Turkey was our biggest aircraft carrier,” an Israeli military source told the London-based publication. “Using the Turkish airbases could make the difference between success and failure once a showdown with Iran gets underway.”

“Iran is warning openly about its intentions to destroy us and is working with all its might to carry it out,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony in Jerusalem earlier this month. “We won’t leave our fate in the hands of others, even the best of our friends,” he added alluding to the US’s promise to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

According to the 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 the arrangement that was established in 1996 and remained in place until the two countries all but severed ties in the wake of the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals during the takeover of the vessel which was trying to reach Gaza.

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. Just minutes before boarding Air Force One, Obama handed Netanyahu the phone and heard him apologize to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for any “operational errors” made by Israel during the Mavi Marmara incident.

Amidror will reportedly be arriving in Ankara with a proposal to sell Turkey a variety of Israeli-developed weapons and military equipment, including Arrow anti-ballistic missiles, an advanced visual intelligence system developed by Elop, and an electronic warfare system made by Elta. The latter two systems were reportedly sent to Turkey for testing before bi-lateral ties deteriorated.

“The Israeli defense establishment has been lobbying hard for the politicians to find a form of apology, in order to restore the Israeli-Turkish alliance against Syria and Iran,” an Israeli defense source told the Sunday Times. “Turkey is very worried by Iran’s missile ambitions — countering this independently would take them years. With Israeli know-how based on the Jericho ballistic missiles, the time-frame will be cut short.”

“Turkey is talking about full normalization and a return of ties to the way they were before,” Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc told Maariv in an interview published on Wednesday. “I expect the talks to succeed. 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 that broke off after the incident.

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 the 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’.

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