Turkey says it is prepared for possibility of war with Israel

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said Monday in Cairo that he is prepared for the worst case scenario with Israel, while Israel scrambles to cover its flanks in a multifront diplomatic crisis.

Ismail Zaydah/Reuters
Palestinian schoolboys hold a poster depicting Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a rally at Gaza Seaport calling on Erdogan to visit the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

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Amid a diplomatic assault from three directions that has Israel's foreign service reeling, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey is prepared for a military confrontation with Israel should the diplomatic row between the two countries escalate.

In an interview Monday with Egyptian newspaper Al Shuruq, Mr. Erdogan said the "Turkish Navy is prepared for every scenario – even the worst one."

Israeli-Turkish ties have been nearly severed in recent weeks. That's not the only challenge. Over the weekend, angry protesters breached the Israeli embassy in Cairo, and there was rapid movement toward a Palestinian declaration of statehood when the United Nations meets later this month. The trio of challenges has put Israel at a tough diplomatic intersection, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

Erdogan, who downgraded Israel's diplomatic mission to Turkey after Israel refused to apologize for its May 2010 raid on the Gaza flotilla that killed nine people, including eight Turks, would not speculate about Turkey's next move, according to Israeli news organization Ynet News, which carried a translation of the Al Shuruq interview.

"I don't want to put the cart before the horses," he said, "because any such plan is hinged upon Israel's response and its willingness to accept a just solution that will preserve Turkey's honor."

"What I can say is that we are committed to four things: Protecting the rights and honor of the Turkish people, stopping Israel from disregarding international treaties and customs, implementation of Turkish demands through international tribunals, and ending the blockade on Gaza."

Erdogan is in the middle of a visit to Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, his first since all three countries ousted longstanding dictators.

Other Arab countries, both those friendly and hostile to Israel, heaped blame on Israel for its isolation from two of its former regional allies. King Abdullah of Jordan, whose country joins Egypt as the only two Arab-majority states that have peace agreements with Israel, said Monday that "Israel's situation is more difficult than ever before," according to Ynet. The Saudi newspaper Almedina wrote that Israel is "more isolated than ever."

An Israeli official downplayed King Abdullah's remarks, framing them as merely his way of smoothing over "internal sensitivities within the kingdom…. The king has strong ties with the US, and has strong interests with Israel," he said. "We should keep that front calm, and follow the developments."

However, Reuters notes that Israel's situation might not be as dire as it appears, at least when it comes to Egypt. Despite public sentiment, the new government cannot afford to lose the billions of dollars in US military aid that it receives as part of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which it affirmed to Washington after the embassy attack in Cairo.

Adel Soliman, head of Cairo's International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies, also told Reuters that concerns about a Turkish-Egyptian alliance against Israel were overblown and that Erdogan is merely trying to fill Egypt's void as a regional leader.

"Egypt is not in a position to play such a role at the moment so Erdogan is trying to take advantage of that," Mr. Soliman said. "I don't think they will have any big agreements when it comes to Israel. There is a lot of exaggeration. I see it more as theatrics than anything practical."

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