Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli has accused Israel of selling Ankara defective drones in a 2005 deal which affecting the country’s campaign against Kurdish militias in Iraq.
Canikli made the statements in an interview with Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak, referring to ten Heron-model UAVs sold by Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) to Turkey as part of a $190 million deal signed in 2005. The deal is already a contentious issue, as Turkey had initially accused Israel of failing to provide spare parts alongside the equipment.
In 2008, Turkey froze the deal in protest of Israel’s bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip. The drones were finally delivered to Ankara in 2010.
“We paid many dollars for them, but we have never been able to effectively make use of them,” Canikli told the paper. “They [Israel] did it on purpose, so that we cannot use them. Israeli engineers sabotaged the intelligence systems of the drone. Afterwards we realized that we bombed rocks and most of the targets were missed.”
IAI released a statement denying the charges, terming them “delusional and deserve no response”.
Although Israel and Turkey have held formal relations since 1949, more recently relations have been strained. Turkey was critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza during the 2008 war and tensions reached a new low following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which ten Turkish activists were killed while taking part in a humanitarian convoy which aimed to break the illegal siege of the Gaza Strip.
In economic terms, relations have fared better, with Israel the tenth-largest market for Turkish exports in 2017, buying some $3.4 billion of goods, according to IMF statistics. Data from Turkey’s statistics institute shows that trade volume between the two was at $4.9 billion in 2017. Turkey, which has a trade surplus with Israel, imports plastics and mineral oils among other goods from there.
Tensions have increased in recent months following the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and Israel’s violent response to the Great March of Return in Gaza which left over 123 Palestinians dead, both of which were criticised by Turkey.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the recent United Nations vote on recognising Israel’s use of excessive force against Palestinians as “another major defeat for the US”.