Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene a meeting of his eight senior ministers today to discuss the serious deterioration in relations with Turkey as well as the diplomatic and legal campaign Turkey is planning against Israel in the near future. Israel intends to calm the situation as much as possible, but the cabinet members are also due to consider steps Israel could take in response to the Turkish sanctions in the event the situation worsens.
The meeting of the senior cabinet members follows discussions at the Foreign Ministry and in the IDF regarding the crisis with Turkey and its implications. The eight ministers are expected to be given a briefing on the situation from the heads of the intelligence community and the Foreign Ministry regarding additional potential scenarios if the situation escalates.
Both the Foreign Ministry and the defense establishment are interested in trying to head off an additional deterioration in relations with Turkey. Senior Foreign Ministry officials have noted that they will recommend steps to reduce the tension.
Netanyahu also wants to avoid an escalation, a sentiment he expressed in a conversation Monday in Jerusalem with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, when he told his German guest that he wished to calm tensions with Turkey as much as possible.
The eight senior ministers are expected to be joined by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, in light of the assessment that Turkey will soon launch a legal initiative against Israel. The Turkish government rejected the report of the Palmer committee, the United Nations' panel that investigated the Israel Navy's confrontation with a Turkish flotilla ship that was attempting last year to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. The Turks also rejected the Palmer committee's conclusion that the Israeli blockade is legal, and are expected to ask the International Court of Justice in the Hague for a legal opinion on the issue.
The Turkish request would be similar to a 2004 Palestinian request to the court over the legality of Israel's security barrier.
The eight cabinet members are also expected to discuss the prospect that Turkey would take legal action against members of the Israeli military who were involved in the flotilla operation. Commenting yesterday on tensions with Turkey, Netanyahu said in the end common sense and cooler calculations would prevail on both sides.
In other developments involving Israel's neighbors, Netanyahu toured the Egyptian border area yesterday and ordered the military establishment to expedite the building of the fence under construction along Israel's border with Egypt. "Our border with Egypt is a border of peace," the prime minister commented.
"To strengthen the peace, we need to strengthen security," he said, adding that this requires the completion of the fence, about 51 kilometers of which have been built. The completed barrier will be 240 kilometers long.
Netanyahu asked that the target date for the completion of the work be moved up from the end of next year to September 2012. The fence is 5 meters high and has foundations that are 2 meters deep featuring metal that is 14 centimeters thick, accompanied on the Israeli side by barbed wire installations. The top of the fence is extremely sharp, in an effort to prevent attempts to scale it. The barrier also includes a network of security cameras and sensors to monitor activity along the border.
Efforts to expedite work on the fence had already begun following last month's terrorist attack from across the Egyptian border near Eilat, in which eight Israelis were killed. Egyptian soldiers also died in the incident. For Netanyahu's visit to the border area yesterday, a special secure observation post was installed. The prime minister noted that initially the fence was commissioned to stop illegal migrants from crossing into the country, and only later to stop terrorists. Now priorities have changed and its primary purpose is to keep terrorists out, he said.
The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported yesterday that in an effort to maintain security ties between Israel and Egypt and as part of the joint investigation the two countries are conducting on last month's terrorist attack, an Israeli security delegation made a lightning visit to Cairo lasting a few hours. They arrived in Egypt by private plane.
The report was based on information from the German press agency, DPA.
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