Cabinet ministers decided Tuesday to deport more than 350 Turkish nationals after their arrest in the Gaza flotilla confrontation a day earlier.
Israeli authorities have maintained quiet contacts with Turkish officials after Muslim extremists, including many from Turkey, attacked INF commandoes as they boarded the vessels to stop the flotilla from violating an embargo on Gaza.
It is believed that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has caused most of the escalation in hostilities by Israel's former ally. Erdogan has drawn closer to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since Operation Cast Lead, Israel's counterterrorism war against the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza, during the winter of 2008-2009.
Security sources told the Cabinet that Erdogan is “trying to draw closer to the Islamic world in an effort to become a regional leader. He's drawing closer to the Syrians and Palestinians at Israel's expense.”
It is expected that all of the 380 Turkish citizens will have been sent back to the country by Thursday.
Meanwhile, as a precaution, Israel's Foreign Ministry has also ordered the families of its diplomats to leave Turkey immediately, after Ankara recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv.
By Wednesday morning, Israel had already deported some 124 Arabs to Jordan, from where they were expected to return to their countries of origin, some as far away as Indonesia and Pakistan. Others were more local to the region and came from Jordan, the enemy nation of Syria, Kuwait, Morocco and Mauritania, a former diplomatic friend of Israel.
At least 45 additional detainees were already sent back to their countries of origin, in addition to a Turkish mother and her one-year-old baby. Approximately 130 others are still in detention, with a few also still hospitalized.
According to a report broadcast on Channel 10, Naval Commander Admiral Eliezer Marom told the Cabinet that several of the militants aboard the Mavi Marmara had thousands of dollars in their pockets. The money was discovered when the militants were searched for weapons following their arrest in the wake of the ambush.
Marom told the Cabinet that the discovery had led him to believe that a number of the militants aboard the Mavi Marmara were in actuality paid mercenaries who had been sent to lead the ambush of Israeli commandos when the flotilla was stopped.