‘Israeli Heron hovered over Hatay for four hours’

January 03, 2012, Tuesday/ 17:55:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

An Israeli heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was observed spying above the 14th Hawk B. Brigade command in Hatay’s Kırıkhan district for four hours, the Taraf daily claimed on Tuesday.

The aerial vehicle was hovering over the brigade command post in order to capture pictures of missile batteries and radar equipment.

According to the daily’s report, the Israeli drone was first noticed by a military lieutenant, who saw a white light flashing in the sky. Later he asked an air defense senior sergeant to verify what he had seen, who confirmed that a drone was hovering over the command post.

All the military personnel then left the post in preparation for a possible attack.

Radar followed the Israeli drone as military officials waited for the order to shoot it down. Higher ranked military officials did not reply to the radar center’s call before the drone moved out of range.

At the same time as the events in Hatay, the Diyarbakır 2nd Air Force Command Strike Center was also tracking the drone. Upon an insistent request of the Hatay command, the Diyarbakır command center sent two F-16 fighter jets to the region, where they tracked and followed the drones, and eventually returned to their base in Diyarbakır.

In a related story, Turkey purchased 10 herons from Israel in a 2004 arms deal at a cost of about $183 million. Turkey has been using Israeli-made Heron drones in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But the Herons purchased by Turkey were not able to reach the altitudes indicated in the contract, and five of the Herons had engine-related problems. These five and at least two others that had other problems were sent to Israel for repair.

There were significant delays in the return of the drones, prompting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to publicly complain in September. This, intelligence sources say, sped up the delivery process, and Israel recently returned all of the Herons. Israeli technical personnel in charge of renovating the crafts left Turkey due to security reasons, following a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel in September 2011.

The UAVs have been important in Turkey’s intensified fight against the PKK, which has stepped up its terrorist attacks against Turkish security forces, civilians and businesses in southeast Turkey over the past six months. Turkey has greatly improved counterterrorism efforts with the increased use of drones, and the domestic manufacture of drones; 168 domestically produced drones are used by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for surveillance.

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