Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak started a visit to Turkey on Tuesday and held out hope that Ankara, keen to renew the long-stalled Israeli-Syrian peace track, will have a "positive" influence on Damascus.
Ankara has offered to help reconcile Israel with Syria and wants to defuse a diplomatic deadlock with the Palestinians amid spiralling cross-border violence in the Gaza Strip.
"Because of the depth of their relationship with the Syrians, they (Turkey) have a definite potential to wield positive influence," Barak told reporters en route to Ankara, though he declined to comment on any specific peace overtures. Barak played down the role of Turkey on the Israeli-Palestinian track. "I'm not sure they have a role to play," he said.
A former Israeli premier whose tenure ended in 2001 after botched peace negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians, Barak sees the Syrian track as more promising than the Palestinian track, according to an Israeli political source. The source said that puts Barak on "different wavelengths" than Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He has voiced interest in talking to Damascus since Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon but has balked at Syrian preconditions such as an Israeli commitment to return the occupied Golan Heights.
A senior Turkish diplomat said Ankara "has been playing the role of facilitator, not mediator, between Syria and Israel". Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan "might deliver a message from Damascus" to Barak, the diplomat added.
Barak confidants said he would also use his two-day visit to Turkey to promote the proposed sale of an Israeli spy satellite and other defence deals.
In talks with Turkey's Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul and armed forces chief General Yasar Buyukanit, Barak will urge Ankara to buy state-run Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) Ofek satellite for an estimated $300 million.
"This deal has been under discussion for years, but Barak's visit may help clinch it," an Israeli security source said.
Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to have built and deployed its own satellites. The first in the Ofek ("Horizon") series was launched in 1988. Ofek-7, billed as Israel's eye on arch-foe Iran, went into orbit last year.
Turkish diplomatic sources confirmed that Ankara wants to advance intelligence-sharing projects including satellites.
Turkey is taking delivery of around 10 Heron surveillance drones purchased from IAI for $200 million, the Israeli security source said, and has voiced a "preliminary interest" in Israel's Arrow II anti-missile system.
The sources also said Turkey would raise the situation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with Barak. Israel imposed a blockade on the impoverished Palestinian territory following cross-border rocket attacks by Islamist Hamas and other militant factions.