Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dispatched 3 warships to the Eastern Mediterranean to ‘defend against Israeli vessels’ and ensure ‘freedom of navigation’ for his country’s ships, Today’s Zaman reported.
The move, only the latest in Erdogan’s bellicose rhetorical assault on Israel, comes on the same day he called Israel’s boarding of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara in 2010 “grounds for war” adding only Turkey’s “greatness and patience” had averted conflict.
During the boarding action 9 Turkish nationals who participated in a mob that attempted to lynch the commandos were killed when non-lethal weapons the boarding party was equipped with as their primary arms proved insufficient to stop the lethal threat necessitating the use of live fire.
While the UN Palmer Report criticized Israel’s use of force resulting in the deaths as “excessive,” it also concluded Israel’s blockade of Gaza was “legal and appropriate” under international law.
But Erdogan, whose government has rejected the UN stance in the Palmer Report, insists Turkish ships will provide protection for ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza and confront Israeli warships outside of Israel’s territorial waters if necessary, according to the report.
State news agency Anatolia released late on Sunday what it said was an original Turkish-language transcript of an interview Erdogan gave to Al Jazeera television last week.
It included elements not broadcast as well as original wording for sensitive comments that had been transmitted only in Arabic translation.
“Right now, without a doubt, the primary duty of Turkish navy ships is to protect its own ships,” Erdogan said.
“This is the first step. And we have humanitarian aid that we want to carry there. This humanitarian aid will not be attacked any more, as it was the case with Mavi Marmara.”
Israel’s government, however, has said that while it wants to ease tensions with its former ally it will continue the Gaza-blockade.
The prospect of a Cuban Missile Crisis style showdown at sea with Turkey, a NATO power and fellow ally of the United States, has led Washington to appeal for restraint and led to a quiet decision for brinksmanship – and continued enforcement of the blockade – in Jerusalem.
Turkey has downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and halted defense-related trade after the Jewish state’s confirmation last week that it would not apologize for the raid on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 in which nine Turks were killed.
Israeli officials have, to date, been divided on how to respond to Turkey. But amid the diplomatic upheavals of the ‘Arab Spring,’ a spike in terror, Iran’s nuclear program, and the imminent Palestinian Authority statehood bid at the United Nations, Erdogan is just one more puzzle to solve.