JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Israel's navy as one of the Jewish state's strategic "long arms" on Wednesday, a day after Turkey cut military trade ties and said it would send its warships to patrol in the eastern Mediterranean.
"The navy is one of the two long arms of the Israel Defence Forces and it is a long and very powerful arm. Through your actions you maintain calm and our security at sea," Netanyahu said at a passing out ceremony for naval officers.
The second long arm Netanyahu was referring to in his speech at a naval base in the northern port city of Haifa was Israel's air force.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to send warships into Mediterranean waters where Israel's navy operates, raising the prospect of a first confrontation at sea between these two major U.S. allies.
Erdogan's remarks on Tuesday were the latest development in the escalation of tensions since Ankara's downgrade of diplomatic ties in a dispute over Israel's killings of nine Turkish citizens in a raid to stop a flotilla from sailing to the Hamas Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip last year.
Netanyahu added: "In the past few days we have witnessed a deepening of tensions with Turkey and it was not our choice and it is not our choice today. We respect the Turkish people and its heritage and we certainly want to improve ties."
Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jon Boyle