Turkey is planning to send three warships to the Eastern Mediterranean to defend against Israeli vessels if necessary and ensure freedom of navigation for Turkish ships, Today's Zaman reported on Monday.
The Turkish ships will provide protection for ships bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and confront Israeli warships outside of Israel's territorial waters if necessary, according to the report.
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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw "grounds for war" with Israel last year after a deadly raid on a Turkish ship headed for Gaza, according to a transcript of a recent interview.
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.
Among previously unpublished elements, Erdogan said the IDF's deadly raid last year on a Turkish ship headed for Gaza would have justified going to war: "The attack that took place in international waters did not comply with any international law. In fact, it was grounds for war. However, befitting Turkey's greatness, we decided to act with patience," he said.
The transcript in Turkish from Anatolian, apparently provided by Erdogan's office, also gave the following account of the prime minister's response to a question on what Turkey would do to ensure free passage for its ships in the Mediterranean.
"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."
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.
Turkey and Israel had tried to mend fences before the publication of a UN report
two weeks ago, which deemed the blockade of the Gaza Strip a legal means to stem the flow of arms to Palestinians.
The government has said it will continue the blockade and that it wants to ease tensions with its former ally.
prospect of a showdown at sea with Turkey, a NATO power and fellow ally
of the United States, rattled Israelis already on edge over political
upheaval in the Arab world and Iran's nuclear program. Washington has
appealed for restraint.
Erdogan, seeking to expand Turkey's regional influence, will travel
to Cairo on Monday as part of a tour of three Arab countries likely to
be scrutinized by Israel, whose once warm ties with both Muslim states
have been shaken.