$75 Million Turkish Project Awarded to Israel

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey has awarded Israel Aircraft Industries a $75-million contract to modernize the country’s F-5 fighter planes–Anatolian news agency said on Wednesday.

The announcement was made at a news conference following a meeting of the defense industry committee under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz.

Turkish generals were thought to favor Israel’s bid to upgrade 48 F-5 planes–while officials in Yilmaz’s office were said to have preferred main competitor France on hopes Paris would assist Turkey’s EU membership bid.

Yilmaz vowed to freeze political relations with the European Union this month after the bloc failed to give Ankara a formal timetable for membership.

Israel is already upgrading 54 of Turkey’s F-4 fighter planes in a deal worth $630 million which forms part of strengthening defense ties between the two countries.

They signed a military agreement in 1996 that allowed their aircraft to train in each other’s airspace and earlier this month Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai visited Ankara.

The growing ties have angered Iran and much of the Arab world.

The Turkish–Israeli and US navies are to hold joint search-and-rescue maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean in early January.

Iran condemned planned joint military exercises by Turkey–Israel and the United States–saying they threatened security in the region–the official Iranian news agency IRNA said on Monday.

"Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi said expansion of Ankara-Tel Aviv cooperation including the military exercise will mar security in the region," IRNA said.

"Mohammadi called on Turkey to pay serious attention to the interests of the world of Islam and move in this direction.

"Stressing that the US and the Zionist regime (Israel) are after upsetting regional security–the Foreign Ministry spokesman’said that the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot remain indifferent towards these developmen’s," IRNA added.

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