Israel-Turkey crisis escalating: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that more sanctions against Israel could follow the expulsion of Jerusalem's ambassador and the suspension of military ties.
Erdogan said that pending the decision on such sanctions, Turkey will suspend its trade ties with Israel: "Trade ties, military ties regarding defence industry ties, we are completely suspending them. This process will be followed by different measures," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.
More on Israeli-Turkish diplomatic crisis:
- Efforts to restore Israel-Turkey relation in high gear
- Turkey expels Israeli ambassador
- No more stopovers in Istanbul?
- Israel defiant: No apology to Turkey
- Palmer Report fails main objectives
It was later reported by the Wall Street Journal that a spokesman for Erdogan said the prime minister had been referring in his remarks only to trade in defense goods, and not to trade in general.
Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said on Monday that Ankara would do nothing "for now" to change its economic relationship with Israel.
Turkish PM Erdogan (L) and President Abdullah Gul
According to the WSJ report, the halt in trade will only apply to commercial ties between the Turkish government and army with Israel, which mainly involve Israeli security exports. Such deals are estimated to be worth several million dollars a year – a tiny fracture of Israeli exports to Turkey which totaled $13 billion in 2010.
The clarification is in line with statements made by a senior Turkish business official to his Israeli counterpart. "Erdogan's statement in Turkish specifically addressed commercial ties between the armies. Erdogan did not mention business ties in general and this issue was based on a faulty translation of his remarks to English and French," he said.
The Turkish official added: "Erdogan cannot suspend all commercial ties even if he wanted to. With all due respect, Turkey is a democracy and Mr. Erdogan cannot tells businessmen where they should work, not unless the Turkish parliament declares Israel an enemy state, and there is no such proposal on the table."
Erdogan also noted that Turkey would be stepping up its naval patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean: "The Eastern Mediterranean is not a strange place to us... our ships will be seen much more frequently in those waters."
The Turkish leader said Tuesday that other Israeli diplomats who were expelled form Turkey along with the Israeli ambassador, have until Wednesday to leave the country.
The move followed Israel's refusal to apologize for the deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, which left nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists dead. Erdogan described the raid as "savagery" and accused Israel of acting like "a spoiled boy" in the region.
Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives, but remains adamant that no official apology for the naval operation will be issued.
The Palmer Report, commissioned by the United Nations, was dismissed by Ankara as biased.
Turkey has already announced that it will not back down from its demand for an apology and said it would seek legal recourse against Israel with the International Court of Justice.
Asked about Erdogan's remarks, an Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in response that "Israel does not want to see further deterioration in its relationship with Turkey."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in remarks said before Erdogan's announcement, said: "Israel and Turkey are the two strongest and in many respects the most important countries in the Mideast.
"We have our differences, but in differences too it is important that both sides act using their heads and not their gut -- that will be best for us all and best for regional stability and restoring things."
AP, Reuters and Tani Goldstein contributed to this report
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