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PM lauds navy's Gaza blockade; no apology to Turks
By HERB KEINON
09/08/2011
Netanyahu's comments come after Erdogan shrugs off economic cost of sanctions against Israel: "Turkish pride won’t be trampled."
 
In an apparent message to Turkey that its downgrade of ties, heated rhetoric and threats were not intimidating Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went to a naval base in Haifa on Wednesday and told the “officers and comrades-in-arms” of those who stopped the Mavi Marmara that “we are proud of you. We salute you.”

Netanyahu, speaking at a naval officers’ commencement ceremony, said the deepening tensions with Turkey were not Israel’s choice, and “we respect the Turkish people and its heritage, and want an improvement in ties.

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“But with that, precisely here this evening, precisely here before the officers and comrades-in-arms of those who a year ago prevented with their bodies the breaking of the naval blockade of the terrorist regime in Gaza, I want to say the truth in a loud and clear voice: The justice of our cause is the strategic asset of the State of Israel, the strongest thing that sustains us and gives us the strength to deal with challenges that no other country or people have to deal with.”

It is the “justice of the cause” that fortifies the navy when it protects the country’s coast and stops the smuggling of arms into Gaza “to prevent the firing of missiles on our children and our cities,” he said.

“We are proud of you. We salute you.”


Netanyahu’s comments came shortly after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when asked by reporters about the economic cost to Turkey of the sanctions the country has taken against Israel, said, “The cost could be $15 or $150 million. We, as Turkey, would not be bothered by this. What is important for us is that we don’t let anyone trample on our pride.”

Erdogan, who has rattled the saber by promising to step up naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean to ensure freedom of maritime traffic, and who has frozen all defense contracts with Israel, also used the opportunity to preach to Israel about business ethics.

He accused Israel of not providing maintenance for Heron unmanned aerial vehicles that Israel Aerospace Industries supplied to Turkey last year. In 2005, IAI and Elbit Systems won a $183m. contract to supply 10 Heron UAVs and associated systems to the Turkish Air Force. Deliveries were completed last year.

“Israel is not being loyal to bilateral agreements in the defense industry,” Turkish Today’s Zaman’s website quoted Erdogan as saying. “There could be difficulties, problems with another country, such things may happen, but there is an international code of ethics that needs to be upheld in business agreements.”

Defense officials dismissed Erdogan’s accusations, with one source familiar with the deal saying IAI recently received a delivery of a number of engines that required regular maintenance and repairs. The official said work on the engines was ongoing at IAI’s MALAT factory near Ben-Gurion Airport, and they would be returned to Turkey once the work was completed.

The engines’ presence in Israel does not affect Turkish operations, since under the deal, the Turks bought spare engines that enable them to continue flying the UAVs even when some of the engines are undergoing repairs.

Meanwhile, Today’s Zaman reported Erdogan is scheduled to visit Cairo on Monday, and from there go to Tunisia and Libya. While he has threatened to go to Gaza through the Egyptian crossing at Rafah, the paper quoted an Egyptian official as saying he did not expect such a visit to take place.

Israeli officials also said on Wednesday they doubted Erdogan would go to Gaza, since he probably realized this would harm him more than it would harm Israel.

A picture of Erdogan shaking hands with Hamas’s leaders wouldn’t harm Israel, one diplomatic official said, but it would strengthen those who argue that he supports Hamas.

“This won’t boost his popularity in many places, such as in Ramallah, Washington or Brussels,” the official said.

Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.
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