Deepening a crisis over Israel’s killing last year of nine of their citizens aboard an aid flotilla that tried to reach the Palestinian enclave, the Turks on September 8 vowed to assign warships to escort such convoys in the future. The prospect of a showdown at sea with Turkey, a NATO power and fellow US strategic partner in the region, rattled Israelis already long on edge given Arab political upheaval and Iran’s nuclear programme.
Confrontation did not appear imminent after the IHH, a Turkish Islamist charity that owned the Mavi Marmara cruise ship stormed by Israeli marines on May 31, 2010, said in Istanbul it had no plan “for now” to mount another Gaza mission. But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan also pledged to boost naval patrols around eastern Mediterranean gas fields being developed by Israel, a potential blow to the Netanyahu government’s quest for energy independence. The Obama administration appealed for rapprochement.
Turkey argues that the naval closure amounts to illegal collective punishment of Gaza’s impoverished 1.5 million Palestinians and conditioned reconciliation on it being lifted. The UN inquiry also called Israeli marines’ gunfire in brawls aboard the Mavi Marmara “excessive and unreasonable” and the deaths caused “unacceptable.” Israel voiced regret but rejected Ankara’s demand for a formal apology and compensation.