Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Tunisians on Thursday his country could have frigates and assault vessels in the eastern Mediterranean “at any time” to ensure freedom of movement.
The Turkish leader is on the second stop of a three-nation tour of the “Arab Spring” countries where long-time governments were toppled by grassroots uprisings this year. Until Wednesday evening, he was in Egypt, where he addressed the country's transitional government, and spoke with interviewers on the Egyptian Dream private satellite television station. He also met with the leadership from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, which is now fielding a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.
The next and final stop on his tour is expected to be Libya.
Erdogan said Turkey would seek to cement ties with whichever party wins the most support in Tunisia's upcoming national elections. Voters will empower a new parliament to draft a new constitution in the October 23 poll – the first since former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.
“Israel will not be able to move in the eastern Mediterranean as it wishes,” Erdogan said at a joint news conference with his counterpart, Interim Prime Minister Beji Caid el Sebsi. “It will see our determination in this regard.”
The comment raised the specter of a possible maritime confrontation with the Israeli navy, a prospect that follows the expulsion of Israel's ambassador and its other high-level diplomats from Ankara.
All military trade was also canceled after Israel refused to apologize for the deaths of nine terror activists who attacked its commandos during a clash aboard a Turkish IHH flotilla vessel, the Mavi Marmara, that tried to breach Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza in May 2010.