Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) has recalled all its staff from Turkey over security concerns following the deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, an company official confirmed today. "We have recalled our employees -- it's because of the situation at the moment, after the flotilla incident," the IAI official said. "All Israelis involved in the defence industry have been asked to leave Turkey for security reasons because tensions with Turkey are high at the moment," she said, without specifying the number of employees.
Israeli navy seals raided the Gaza-bound aid fleet on May 31, killing nine Turkish nationals when clashes broke out on the deck of one of the ships, severely damaging the once-close ties between the two countries. Among those employees brought back to Israel were believed to be specialists who had been training the Turkish military on how to use Israeli-made drones. But the official stressed the measure was "just a temporary move" and insisted Israel's contract to supply Turkey with 10 Heron drones was still going ahead, contrary to Turkish media reports.
"It's business as usual - we have not heard anything about the contract being cancelled," she said. Elbit Systems, another major Israeli defence firm involved in the drone agreement, refused to confirm reports it had withdrawn all staff from Turkey, but a company source insisted the deal was still going ahead. The two countries had been due to complete a multi-million-dollar deal inked in 2005 for the delivery of 10 drone aircraft for the Turkish air force.
So far, Israel has delivered eight of the 10 drones amid repeated delays for both technical and diplomatic reasons. The contract was part of a $185 million (Dh679.4m) project involving the manufacture of 10 aircraft, surveillance equipment and ground control stations, with Turkish firms providing sub-systems and services. Turkey and Israel signed a military cooperation deal in 1996, after which ties flourished until last year when the two fell out after Israel's devastating 22-day war on Hamas-ruled Gaza, aimed at halting rocket attacks.