Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday significantly increased the likelihood of an Israeli-Turkish military clash when he dispatched a naval task force to the eastern Mediterranean with orders to confront Israeli warships.
Erdogan has called Israel's May 2010 interception of a Turkish-led "humanitarian aid" flotilla to Gaza an act of piracy. He labeled as a "war crime" the killing of nine Turkish nationals who, along with other passengers, tried to lynch the Israeli boarding party.
Last week, Erdogan ratcheted up his hostile rhetoric when he told an Al Jazeera interviewer that Israel's raid on the Mavi Marmara and its fellow vessels had been "grounds for war."
War was only averted, said Erdogan, because "befitting Turkey's greatness, we decided to act with patience."
That won't be the case next time around, Erdogan suggested in a thinly veiled threat.
"Right now, without a doubt, the primary duty of Turkish navy ships is to protect its own ships," he said.
And it seems Erdogan is determined to actually provoke a confrontation. He told Al Jazeera that Turkey has "humanitarian aid that we want to carry" to Gaza, under the protection of his warships, in violation of the Israeli blockade.
Israel says it will not back down on its maritime blockade of Gaza, which the UN commissioned Palmer Committee certified as legal and legitimate just last month. While the Palmer Report criticized Israel for the level of violence used in subduing the Mavi Marmara crew, it approved of Israel's enforcement of the Gaza blockade, even in international waters.
Erdogan's threat also completely ignores the fact that an enormous amount of humanitarian aid enters Gaza ever day via the coastal territory's land crossings with Israel.
Prior to the Mavi Marmara incident, Israel and other nations urged the flotilla's organizers to transfer their aid via those land crossings. Readily admitting that their main goal was to break Israel's UN-certified blockade, the flotilla organizers refused.
Now it appears Erdogan is prepared to do the same, but with far more serious consequences.
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