JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A senior Israeli official on Friday called Turkey's announcement that Turkish warships would escort any future convoys to the Gaza Strip as "harsh and serious" but said Israel wanted to avoid a war of words with its former ally.
The announcement by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday set the stage for a potential naval confrontation as Israel maintains a sea blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
Erdogan said the move was meant to prevent a repeat of an Israeli commando raid on a Turkish aid flotilla last year in which nine civilians were killed.
The incident and subsequent diplomatic arguing has brought relations between the two countries, once close Middle Eastern allies, almost to crisis point.
"The things Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said are harsh and serious, but I don't think it would be right to get into any verbal saber-rattling with him," Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told Israeli Army Radio.
"Our silence is the best response. I hope this phenomenon will pass."
Ankara downgraded diplomatic relations and said it would boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean after Israel refused to apologize for the killings in the raid, which targeted a Turkish activist ship that tried to breach Israel's blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza.
A United Nations enquiry deemed the blockade a legitimate security measure to prevent weapons smuggling. But it also called Israel's use of force in the raid "excessive and unreasonable" and the loss of life "unacceptable." Israel expressed regrets for the deaths.
Meridor, in his comments, said: "Turkey, which claims that Israel is not above international law, needs to understand that neither is it. A U.N. committee has determined that the blockade is legal.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, asked if Israel might review the blockade given NATO-member Turkey's naval challenge, said: "There is no intent to review the blockade as long as Hamas amasses missiles. This is a measure consistent with international law."
The United States has been hoping to ease tensions between its two main allies in the Middle East.
Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, told Israel Radio: "We are encouraging both countries to find a way to work together to overcome their differences and restore at least some of the friendship that they previously had."
In addition to an apology, Turkey has demanded that Israel end the Gaza blockade. Israel says the closure is needed to keep arms from reaching Palestinian guerrillas by sea.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Dan Williams)