Erdogan threatens to send gunboats with next flotilla

Turkish PM says "we will not allow our ships to be exposed to Israeli attacks"; Israeli official: We are trying to avoid war of words.

Erdogan 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Erdogan 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Even as Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday characterized the crisis with Ankara as “spilt milk,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened that Turkish gunboats would accompany Turkish “humanitarian” vessels the next time they set sail for Gaza.
The marked contrast in tone between the two leaders reflects the very different approaches Ankara and Jerusalem have taken to the current imbroglio, with Israeli ministers speaking little, and then relatively moderately about the situation, while Erdogan is leading a chorus of senior Turkish officials, from the president on down to the agriculture minister, lambasting and threatening Israel on a daily basis.
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“Our policy remains the same: We are trying our best to avoid a war of words with Turkey, looking for practical ways to change the momentum, to change the direction,” one official said.
The official said that even Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, during his speech on Wednesday night at a navy ceremony in Haifa in which he spoke of the justice of Israel’s cause in relation to last year’s Mavi Marmara incident, steered clear of any attacks on Turkey or Erdogan.
Each word of that speech was scrutinized carefully in the Prime Minister’s Office before delivery.
“The fact that we are not saying anything does not mean we have adopted the philosophy of turning the other cheek,” one government official said. “It just shows that we are doing what we can to stem the negative tide, and keep options open for more positive developments.”
Barak, in an Israel Radio interview, said that “ultimately this wave will pass. We recognize reality.
They recognize reality. We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region... I am certain that we can overcome these [disagreements].”
The main thing, Barak said, “was not to get confused, not to get into a tailspin. Turkey is not about to become an enemy of Israel and we have no cause to waste invective and energy over this.”
Also on Thursday, the American ambassador to Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, was quoted on the Turkish Hurriyet website as saying that Washington expected Israel and Turkey to normalize their relations as soon as possible. Ricciardone, according to Hurriyet, said Turkish- Israeli relations were of crucial importance for regional stability, and expressed sorrow at the current turn of events.
The US has reportedly been active behind the scenes trying to put a lid on the crisis, even though one Israeli official said he knew of no “road map” in the making to return ties to a more normal footing.
Erdogan, meanwhile, continued to up the ante, saying in an Al Jazeera interview that Turkish warships were directed to protect Turkish ships bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, and that from now on “we will not allow our ships to be exposed to Israeli attacks, as was the case with the Mavi Marmara, because if this happens Israel will meet the appropriate response.”
At the same time, it was announced in Cairo that Egypt and Turkey will hold a joint naval maneuver in Turkish territorial waters by the end of the year. Erdogan is scheduled to go to Egypt on Monday.
Israel Radio, meanwhile, reported that in the Al Jazeera interview, Erdogan took an even tougher stance toward Syria than to Israel, saying that a “heavy shadow” was hanging over the continued legitimacy of Bashar Assad’s regime. Erdogan said he had cut off all connection with the Syrian leader.
In Syria, according to the report, a key Assad supporter went on state television and linked Erdogan’s present attitude toward Israel to a desire to deflect attention from Ankara’s decision last week to place a NATO early-warning radar system in Turkey aimed at thwarting missile threats from Iran.
The Assad supporter said Erdogan’s behavior toward Israel was aimed at providing “cover” for the real crisis that Turkey will now have with Iran and Syria over the placement of the early-warning radar system, which he said would serve to protect Israel, on Turkish soil.
Reuters contributed to this report.