US tells Israel, Turkey to 'cool it' amid tensions

MATTHEW LEE - Associated Press
September 9, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Friday bluntly told U.S. allies Israel and Turkey to "cool it" as tensions between the two rose over aid flotillas to Gaza.

Amid concern over a possible naval confrontation in the Mediterranean, the State Department said both sides should exercise restraint and avoid any provocations.

"We are urging both sides to refrain from rhetoric or actions that could be provocative, that could contribute to tensions," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "Obviously, we would like to see both sides cool it and get back to a place where they can have a productive relationship."

"We want to see these two strong allies of the United States get along with each other and work together in support of regional peace and security," she said.

She said that message was being delivered to both Turkish and Israeli officials. In Washington, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, Philip Gordon, met on Thursday with Turkey's ambassador to the United States to discuss the situation, she said.

Concern has been rising for some time about the deterioration in once-strong ties between Israel, America's top ally in the Middle East, and Turkey, a key NATO ally and its only Muslim-majority member, but worry intensified last week after Israel refused to apologize for its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year that killed Eight Turks and a Turkish-American. Turkey expelled several senior Israeli diplomats, suspended military cooperation with Israel and boosted naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in response.

Tension spiked again after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would send warships to escort future aid boats leaving its territory for Gaza to prevent a repeat of the 2010 incident. His comments to Al-Jazeera television on Thursday were the first time Turkey has said its navy will use force to protect ships attempting to break Israel's blockade of the coastal Palestinian territory.

Israel said such a move would be "grave and serious" but stressed it was looking for a way to calm matters.

The prospect of a military confrontation between Turkey and Israel would have profound consequences for regional security and the Middle East peace process. It would also complicate U.S. interests and could have implications for NATO.