Tensions Aside, Defense Ministry Still Doing Business With Ankara

Official visit to Turkey reportedly unspoiled by Deputy FM Danny Ayalon's diplomatic faux pas.

Despite soaring tensions between Jerusalem and Ankara, director general-designate of the Defense Ministry, Udi Shani, returned yesterday from an official visit to Turkey. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is expected to make an official visit to Turkey on Sunday.

Shani is set to take the office of director-general tomorrow, succeeding Brig. Gen. (res.) Pinchas Buchris.

Shani's visit to Turkey, undertaken in his previous capacity as head of the Defense Ministry's export agency, has seen him conduct talks on a variety of security matters concerning both countries, especially deals for production and purchase of armaments.

Defense sources told Haaretz the visit was conducted in a friendly working atmosphere, which appeared unspoiled by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon's diplomatic faux pas against the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguc Celikkol.

Last month, Turkey announced its intention to speed up a deal signed with Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems, for the purchase of 10 Heron drone aircraft, for about $190 million.

However, there are still disagreements between the sides, with the Israelis claiming that the Turkish buyers insist on installing surveillance cameras too heavy for the UAVs.

The deal had earlier been put on hold due to Turkish outrage over Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. During Shani's visit, the agreement was once again put on the table, and the sides decided to create a joint task team to resolve remaining disagreements.

Barak accepted the invitation to visit Turkey, issued last month. The visit will include meetings with the Turkish defense and foreign ministers, as well as the Turkish chief of staff. It remains unclear whether Barak will meet Turkish President Abdullah Gul.