Turkey ups naval presence amid Israel tension
Ankara, September 6, 2011
Turkey said on Tuesday it was freezing defence trade with Israel and stepping up naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean , highlighting a potentially destabilising rift between the two major U.S. allies in the Middle East.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's threat to send warships into waters where Israel's navy operates raises the risk of a naval confrontation between two powers whose friendship soured because of Turkish outrage over Israeli policies towards Palestinians.
"The eastern Mediterranean is not a strange place to us. Aksaz and Iskenderun -- these places have the power and opportunity to provide escorts," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara, referring to two Turkish naval bases. "Of course our ships will be seen much more frequently in those waters."
Asked about his remarks, an Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "Israel does not want to see further deterioration in its relationship with Turkey."
On Friday, Turkey announced it was expelling Israel's ambassador and other senior diplomats, downgrading relations after the release of a UN report on the killing of nine Turks during an Israeli commando raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave of Gaza last year.
Israel's refusal to apologise for the deaths has angered Turkey, a Nato member with the alliance's second biggest military, and Erdogan's government argues that Israel's blockade of Gaza lacks legitimacy.
Erdogan also said Turkey was preparing more sanctions against Israel, and specifically said defence industry ties would be frozen.
"Trade ties, military ties, regarding defence industry ties, we are completely suspending them. This process will be followed by different measures," Erdogan said.
An official at Erdogan's office told Reuters the prime minister was referring to military and defence trade ties only , not overall trade, which last year reached a total bilateral volume of $3.5 billion.
Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said on Monday Turkey would do nothing "for now" to change its economic ties with Israel.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which monitors arms sales worldwide, Israel delivered 170 rebuilt Turkish M-60A1 tanks to Turkey in a $688 million deal between 2005 and 2010. It also sold 10 Heron drones to Turkey in 2010 for $ 183 million.-Reuters