The Turkish Navy is planning to dispatch three frigates to the Eastern Mediterranean to ensure freedom of navigation and to confront Israeli warships if necessary, a Turkish news report said on Monday.
The Turkish frigates, to be dispatched by the Navy's Southern Sea Area Command, will provide protection to civilian ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, blockaded by Israel since 2007, the Turkish daily Sabah reported. If the Turkish warships encounter an Israeli military ship outside Israel's 12-mile territorial waters, they will advance up to 100 meters close to the ship and disable its weapon system, in a confrontation that resembles dogfights in the Aegean Sea with Greek jet fighters, according to the report.
The report comes days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkish warships will escort civilian aid ships headed to Gaza to prevent a repetition of last year's Israeli raid on a Turkish-owned ship that killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American, setting the stage for a potential naval confrontation with its former ally.
Turkey announced a set of sanctions against Israel after it refused to apologize for the 2010 raid, expelling the Israeli ambassador and other senior diplomats and suspending military agreements with Israel. Turkey also promised to take measures to ensure freedom of navigation in the eastern Mediterranean.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said Erdoğan's remarks were “harsh and serious,” but stressed that Israel was not interested in a war of words with its once-close ally. “Our silence is the best response. I hope this phenomenon will pass,” he said on Friday.