February 11, 2008 / 9:47 AM / 12 years ago

Barak to promote Israeli satellite sale to Turkey

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak will promote the sale of a spy satellite to Turkey and other military deals during a visit to Ankara this week, Israeli security sources said on Monday.

Muslim but secular Turkey is the Jewish state’s most important regional ally, though relations were strained last year by an Israeli air strike in neighbouring Syria.

Ankara has offered to mediate in peace talks between Israel and Damascus or the Palestinians.

Barak, who begins his two-day visit to the Turkish capital on Tuesday, will urge his hosts to buy state-run Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Ofek satellite for an estimated $300 million.

"This deal has been under discussion for years, but Barak’s visit may help clinch it," an Israeli security source said, adding that past talks had been held up by counter-bidding from a French aerospace firm.

Turkey is currently taking delivery of around 10 Heron surveillance drones purchased from IAI for $200 million, the security source said, and has voiced a "preliminary interest" in Israel’s Arrow II anti-missile system.

Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Israeli Defence Ministry, declined to comment specifically on any sales to Ankara but confirmed that Barak’s visit "aims to bolster our long-standing strategic ties and bilateral deals".

In Ankara, Turkish diplomatic sources described military relations between the two countries as "very good" and confirmed Turkey’s strong interest in intelligence-sharing projects including satellites.

The sources also said Turkey would raise the situation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with Barak. Israel has tightened its blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory amid a series of Hamas rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel.

Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to have built and deployed its own satellites. The first in the Ofek series was launched in 1988. Ofek-7, billed as Israel’s eye on arch-foe Iran, went into orbit last year.

Barak will hold talks with Turkey’s Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul and the head of the powerful military General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit. He is also due to meet President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. (Additional reporting by Evren Mesci in Ankara; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Charles Dick)

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