Report: Israeli crews manning UAVs in Turkish operations against Kurds
Crews from Israel Aerospace Industries, operating unmanned aerial vehicles, are participating in Turkish military operations against PKK militants in northern Iraq, according to Turkish reports to be published today in the Turkish Daily News.
Ten days ago, the Turkish television station Star reported that IAI Heron UAVs are being used in the offensive against the Kurds.
The same report stated that Turkey's Chief of Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, had observed the UAVs' operations in real time, in the operations room of the Batman air force base near the border with Iraq. The intelligence relayed by the UAVs was used by the Turkish Air Force in targeting the Kurdish militants.
However, in the Turkish Daily News report, a Turkish military source is quoted expressing criticism that the IAI and Elbit, which is also part of the Heron program, have failed to meet their contractual obligations and have delayed the supply of UAVs ordered for the Turkish Air Force in 2005.
"The delays have left the TuAF critically short of UAVs when intelligence input from those valuable reconnaissance assets are exceedingly required," the Turkish military official was quoted as saying.
According to the Turkish newspaper, the presence of the Israeli crews is an interim solution that was offered following the delay in the delivery of the UAVs.
IAI offered to lease Herons operated by Israeli crews, for $10 million, for a period of 12 months.
In 2004, a contract was signed between the Turkish government and a Turkish firm, on the one hand, and IAI and Elbit, to jointly develop the Heron. The original agreement stated that the delivery of the UAVs would begin in October 2007, however Turkish sources now say that they will only be available in the spring of 2008.
The estimated value of the deal is several hundred million dollars.
In response, an IAI source said that the delay was not caused by the Israeli side, and promised that it would meet its contractual commitments.
The degree of support
Security sources told Haaretz that as Turkey is carrying out offensive operations against the PKK operating in northern Iraq, there is increased suspicion in the Turkish government and its defense establishment toward the United States and Israel.
According to the same sources, Turkey is following "very closely" every step and statement made by Israel and fears that Jerusalem is not supporting it in its action against the Kurds to the degree that it expects.
Turkish suspicions are in great part fueled by the history of Israel assisting Kurds in their wars in Iraq during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as recent reports that Israeli firms are involved in sales of military equipment and training assistance aimed at establishing an autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.
The reports in the Turkish media about the failure of Israeli firms to meet their contractual commitments is likely to increase tensions between the two countries, even though an interim solution has been provided. On the other hand, the news that Israeli crews are involved operating the UAVs used to target Kurds, is not likely to be well received by the Kurdish government in northern Iraq.