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Wednesday, September 7, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Israel on alert over Turkey plans to send ships
to Gaza Strip

TEL AVIV — Israel is concerned that Turkey plans a naval confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean.


Military sources said the Israel Navy has taken seriously Turkish threats to send warships to accompany boats to the Gaza Strip. They said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has been appointing loyalists into major military positions in what could facilitate a sea conflict.

"We don't really know how serious they are but we can't ignore that there is a threat to our security," a military source said.

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The sources said Erdogan was discussing with Egypt a visit to the Gaza Strip. They said Israel has already warned Egypt not to allow Erdogan to enter Gaza, under siege since the Hamas takeover in 2007.

"Turkey has a lot to lose from extreme behavior," Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad said in an interview with Israel state radio on Sept. 6, Middle East Newsline reported.

The sources said Israel's military has prepared for a halt in cooperation as well as a confrontation with Turkey. They said Ankara has blocked all military exercises with Israel and was boycotting maneuvers that also included the United States.

One prospect was that Turkey, with two naval bases in the Mediterranean, would work with Egypt to help patrol the region. Erdogan was scheduled to arrive in Egypt on Sept. 12 in what was termed an effort to launch strategic cooperation.

"They [Turkish warships] will be seen more frequently in those waters," Erdogan said on Sept. 6. "The eastern Mediterranean is not a strange place to us."

In 2011, Egypt and Turkey conducted a maritime security exercise in the eastern Mediterranean. The sources did not rule out another naval exercise that would be exploited by Turkey to confront the Israel Navy near the Gaza Strip.

"I don't think they would dare to penetrate Israeli waters," former Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Liel said.

Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the death of eight Turks on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, intercepted as it headed for the Gaza Strip in May 2010. A United Nations report deemed the Israeli interception legal although the panel determined that the navy used excessive force against some 60 Islamist fighters armed with metal clubs.

"I'm sorry we reached this point," Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said. "I hope that ultimately the anger will ebb and reason and interests will prevail."

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