Turkey gives Israel new ‘deadline' for Herons delivery
Rejecting a news report suggesting that Turkey has cancelled a deal with Israel for purchasing unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül, has announced that Turkey has given Israeli contractors 50 days to fulfill the long-delayed deal for the delivery of the Israeli-made surveillance drones, known as Herons, Today's Zaman reported.
The delays in the project, launched in 2005, have come against a backdrop of tensions between the two regional allies over Israel's devastating war on the Gaza Strip at the beginning of the year. The two contractors -- Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems Ltd. -- have been sent a letter to fulfill the terms of the deal within 50 days, Gönül said on Saturday, while speaking to reporters at a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the town of Kızılcahamam near Ankara.
"If this letter does not bear fruit either, the tender may be cancelled. But there is no cancellation at the moment," Gönül said, noting that negotiations between the two sides are continuing. "This is nothing to do with politics," he said, underlining that the problems were completely technical.
As Gönül had in Kızılcahamam, Israeli officials have rejected suggestions that the delay had political links, saying the project was snagged by technical problems because the Turkish-manufactured equipment proved too heavy for the aircraft.
Turkey agreed four years ago to buy 10 Heron UAVs for over $180 million from IAI and Elbit. However, the Israeli firms missed the deadline for delivery. The Israeli company was expected to deliver four Herons in August, followed by another two and then the last four by the end of October.
Officials from Turkey's Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, speaking with Today's Zaman, called the deadline given to Israel a "warning," before considering the imposition of a monetary penalty.
"Turkey plans to impose a heavy monetary penalty on Israel for the delay. If this country refuses to comply with the penalty, then Turkey will head to the [ICC] International Court of Arbitration," a senior official from the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) told Today's Zaman last month.
According to the official, the penalty could mount to $3 million or $4 million.
According to Israeli engineers, the delivery problems arose because of the difficulty of strengthening the Heron engines to enable local Aselsan-made electro-optical payloads (Aselfir300T) to be fitted onto the Heron UAVs.