Conflict & Justice

Turkish ships will escort Gaza aid, prime minister says

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan amped up Turkey’s dispute with Israel on Thursday by announcing that Turkish warships will escort any Turkish vessels delivering aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Turkey has NATO's second biggest military and its navy is considered to be superior to that of Israel, which has expanded patrols in the eastern Mediterranean to enforce the Gaza blockade, Reuters reports.

Erdogan also said Turkey would stop Israel unilaterally exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean, according to al-Jazeera's Arabic translation of excerpts of an interview conducted in Turkish, the Guardian reports.

The current spat between the two countries started last week when the United Nations released a report that found Israel used “excessive” force when it raided a Gaza-bound Turkish-flagged protest flotilla in 2010, but said Israel was entitled to its blockade of Gaza. Turkey wants Israel to apologize for the raid, which left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead, but Israel has refused, saying it acted in self-defense.

On Friday, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador in Ankara, suspended military deals and said it would have a greater naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

(More from GlobalPost: Turkey suspends defense trade with Israel)

Israeli ministers have tried to pass off the imbroglio as spilt milk. “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 told the Jerusalem Post.

Not all Turkish leaders agree with the aggressive stance of Erdogan and his AK Party. The main opposition Republican People's Party has called the government's foreign policy "a fiasco,” according to the Guardian.

According to Reuters:

Some Turkish and Israeli analysts say that Turkey's motive is not to seek a showdown with Israel over Gaza, but to build up a naval presence between Cyprus and Israel to create a sense of menace and scare investors away from the gas fields there.

Turkey has been chafing at Cypriot-Israeli energy deals, and the tensions with Israel could enable Ankara to send a message without making explicit threats.

"Turkey's emphasis on freedom of navigation is also connected to the assessment that in the eastern Mediterranean there are natural gas deposits beyond what have already been discovered," said Gallia Lindenstrauss of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Whatever the motive, Turkey, a candidate for European Union membership is playing a dangerous game, analysts said.

"There is a sense in the AK Party that Turkey is a major regional power and that the Mediterranean is its sphere of influence,” Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based security analyst, told Reuters. “But NATO and the West increasingly see Turkey as a loose cannon.”