Israel and Turkey are holding high-level talks on a possible sale of the Arrow ballistic missile defense system and a model of the Ofek spy satellite to Turkey, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Turkish officials said senior Israeli defense delegations had recently met with their counterparts in Ankara for talks on the sale of the systems, two of Israel's most advanced military platforms. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to visit Ankara in January to continue the negotiations.
On Sunday, President Shimon Peres arrived in Ankara under heavy security for a three-day visit, at the invitation of Turkish President Abdullah Gul. Peres received an honorary doctorate from Bilkent University in Ankara.
"Turkey is an important player in the Middle East in relation to Syria, the United States and the Palestinians, as well as us," Peres told reporters en route to Ankara.
Peres, Gul and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet at the Ankara Forum on Tuesday and are expected to announce the establishment of an industrial zone in the West Bank. Peres said Sunday that "150,000 jobs are far more important [for promoting peace] than 15,000 rifles."
To strengthen Abbas, Peres said, Israel needed to improve the quality of life in the Palestinian territories. He expressed optimism that Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams would agree on a joint document to be submitted to the Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, later this month.
Peres's talks with the Turkish leadership will focus on the possibility of renewing Israeli negotiations with Syria, the Iranian threat and the growing rift between Turkey and the US over a nonbinding resolution to formally recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915.
The sale of the Arrow and the Ofek is not expected to come up during Peres's conversations here, since the issue is being dealt with on a defense industry level. Both systems are manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries.
Turkey and Israel have held talks over a sale of the Arrow for several years, and the deal is pending approval from the United States, which finances more than 30 percent of the defense system's production. In April, Arieh Herzog, head of the Homa Missile Defense Agency, told the Post he favored selling the Arrow to Israel's allies, including Turkey.
Israeli defense officials said Turkey was interested in acquiring a missile defense system in the face of Iran's race toward nuclear power. The sale of an Ofek satellite (Israel launched the Ofek 7 in June) would dramatically increase Turkish intelligence-gathering capabilities, since today Turkey does not have its own spy satellites.
"The purchase of these two systems would skip Turkey years forward in operational capabilities," an Israeli defense official said.
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