leviathan - Courtesy Albatross - July 8 2011
Drilling at the Leviathan natural gas field off the Mediterranean shore. Photo by Courtesy Albatross
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Israel vowed to develop and defend gas platforms recently discovered in its waters, Energy Minister Uzi Landau said on Sunday, after Turkey declared its plan to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in a deepening diplomatic feud.

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"Israel can support and secure the rigs that we are going to have in the Mediterranean," Landau told a security conference when asked if Israel would safeguard the gas platforms after the warship challenge floated last week by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"That's the simple answer that I can give," Landau said.

Erdogan has said Turkey will make its presence felt in the eastern Mediterranean at a time when Israel is looking to exploit recently discovered gas fields off its coasts and partner with Cyprus to build energy facilities.

Landau, whose formal title is national infrastructure minister, said there had been no claim so far by any state that the Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields, estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars, do not belong to Israel.

"It hasn't been claimed even by Lebanon, and the Turks too, as far as I'm aware," he said about the gas deposits which Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has estimated could bring in at least e150 billion in future revenues.

Turkey, which does not recognise Cyprus's Greek Cypriot government, has bitterly complained about recent Cypriot-Israeli energy deals. Lebanon has accused Israel of breaking international law by exploring for gas without an agreement on the maritime border between the two countries, which are formally at war.

Israel and Turkey are locked in diplomatic crisis over an Israeli raid in May 2010 on an aid flotilla trying to break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by the Islamist Hamas group. Nine Turks were killed in the raid.

Israel has spurned Ankara's demand for an apology, saying its commandoes acted in self-defence after pro-Palestinian activists attacked them with metal rods and knives.
A United Nations report in August said the blockade, with the declared aim of preventing arms smuggling, was legal but Israeli troops used excessive force in the boarding operation.

NATO-member Turkey, once a strategic ally of the Jewish state, expelled Israel's ambassador after the report was released.