Turkish frigates to confront Israeli vessels, disable their weapons

The Erdogan government sharply ratcheted up its threat of war on Israel Monday, Sept. 12 with a report that three Turkish Navy frigates are to sail for the eastern Mediterranean “to ensure freedom of navigation and confront Israeli warships if necessary.”

As Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was set to start a visit to Egypt, Turkish naval sources reported: “If Turkish warships encounter an Israeli military ship outside Israel’s 12-mile territorial waters, they will advance up to 100 meters from the ship and disable its weapon system.”Turkish Frigate

The threat bluntly applied to Israel’s naval enforcement of its UN-approved blockade of the Gaza Strip.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that this is more than a threat of belligerence against Israeli naval shipping; it is also an attempt to dictate the terms of its threatened military engagement at sea with Israel and arbitrarily lay down the outer limits of Israel’s territorial waters. One of its goals is to deprive Israel’s deep sea gas wells of naval protection.

Turkish naval sources report that the frigates assigned the mission against Israel belong to its Southern Sea Area Command.

DEBKAfile reported earlier Monday, Sept. 12:

While Egypt and Israel acted to cool the crisis in relations sparked by last Friday’s mob attack on the Israeli embassy, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threatened another inflammatory speech against Israel during his Monday visit, Sept. 12 – this one from Tahrir Square in a bid to buy the popularity of the Arab street. Jerusalem and Washington are concerned that it will have the effect of stirring up anti-Israel riots in Egypt and Jordan, Israel’ second peace partner, as well as encouraging the Palestinian terrorist Jihad Islami lurking in Sinai to proceed with its threatened cross-border attack.

Sunday, Sept. 11, the military rulers of Egypt instructed the local media to tone down their coverage of the mob attack on the Israeli embassy Friday night. They announced that 130 rioters would be put on trial. Israel too made every effort to play the episode down by focusing attention on the “courageous stand” taken by the six security guards “only a door away from death” in order to distract attention from the absence of an Israeli ambassador in Cairo after thirty years of normal relations.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that while Israel and Egyptian report efforts to reinstate the envoy soon, it will be some time before the next Israeli ambassador Yakov Amitai takes up his post. First, Israel will have to build a fortified embassy building like US and British premises in Cairo and other world capitals, for which the necessary Egyptian permission cannot be taken for granted.

Political sources in Washington and Jerusalem are profoundly concerned by four fraught developments unfolding this week – all capable of sending Israel’s ties with Egypt and Turkey into another perilous tailspin:

1. The Turkish prime minister’s Tahrir Square speech Monday afternoon. His anti-Israel campaign has drawn from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood an enthusiastic welcome and the promise of a mass turnout. The MB declared the mob attack on the Israeli embassy a legitimate protest operation in defiance of the Egyptian government’s position.

Above all, Erdogan will not stand for the Arab League foreign ministers’ session in Cairo on the same day – to approve the Palestinian bid for UN membership – stealing the thunder of his official visit to Egypt.

Concern about the coming speech was heightened when the full, unedited text of the Turkish prime minster’s interview to the Arabic television station Al Jazeera Thursday, Sept 8 reached Washington and Jerualme and was compared with the adulterated version circulated by Ankara and TV channel.

It reveals that Erdogan actually called Israel’s interception of the Mavi Marmora in May 2010 (during which nine armed activists were killed) an Israeli casus belli for Turkey and extended his threat of aggression to the off shore oil and gas wells of Israel and Cyprus.

According the original text of the speech, Erdogan declared that Turkey will never accept the accord Israel and Cyprus concluded last year marking out their maritime zones for exploration. What Israel is doing, he said “will not happen” – a phrase he repeated with great determination.

The adulterated version released by Erdogan’s office Friday, Sept. 9, the day after the interview read: “As long as Israel does not interfere in the freedom of navigation, we do not plan on sending any warships to escort humanitarian aid ships.”

This is termed by DEBKAfile’s sources no more than a play on words leaving the first threat to have Turkish warships escort aid vessels to the Gaza Strip and visit the eastern Mediterranean fully in place. The potential for a Turkish-Israeli clash at sea appears to be low but remains credible.

He knows Israel is determined not to lift the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip – certainly not after the UN pronounced it legal and necessary. He also knows therefore that his warships cannot avoid running into the Israeli Navy. His purpose remains provocative, because Turkey is free to consign unlimited humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip through Egypt – not to mention Israel.

DEBKAfile’s sources disclose that this “amended” statement was produced in response to heavy pressure from NATO leaders to quit his belligerent stance against Israel.

2. The Turkish prime minister said Sunday that his campaign against Israel has five stages of which only two have been implemented.

Word has reached Jerusalem that Erdogan is preparing more sanctions against Israel to be enforced in days. They include cutting off diplomatic ties, a ban on Turkish trade with the Jewish state and acquitting Turkish businesses and industrialists of their contractual obligations to Israel firms, including debts totaling $400 million.

3. Israel’s government and military leaders worry that the Palestinian Jihad Islami terrorists lurking in Sinai for the past three weeks will choose this moment to strike – whether to kidnap Israelis still vacationing on its beaches or a cross-border attack in Israel. The gunmen have met no Egyptian military interference and they will no doubt be encouraged to take advantage of the incendiary climate generated by the Turkish prime minister and Cairo mob’s sacking of the Israeli embassy.

The Palestinian group’s Iranian and Hizballah sponsors will not miss the chance of further undermining Israeli security. Sunday night saw the first indications of trouble when an Israeli border patrol north of Eilat came under fire from Egyptian Sinai. No one was hurt but Israeli troops guarding that precarious border are more on their toes now than ever.

4. The Muslim Brothers, Hamas and other radical Palestinian organizations in Jordan have used Facebook to rally “a million-strong march” on the Israeli embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman for Thursday evening, Sept. 15, to push for the expulsion of Israeli Ambassador Danny Nevo.

Jordan security forces are on alert to prevent the Israeli embassy sacking in Cairo from being repeated in Amman.