Turkey threatens Israel with increased naval presence

turkey sep 6 1
Turkish naval officers on board an Oruc Reis frigate take part in a ceremony in the Bosphorus
to mark the 87th anniversary of Victory Day in Istanbul August 30, 2009
Reuters Photo By Murad Sezer

By Sebnem Arsu
The New York Times

ISTANBUL — Turkey is prepared to fortify sanctions against Israel and increase its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Tuesday, as relations between the countries continued to fray over an Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged ship last year.

Mr. Erdogan, in a televised speech, did little to defuse mounting tensions with Israel, comparing Israel’s behavior to that of a “spoiled child” and insisting that Turkey would ensure safe navigation in the eastern Mediterranean. “Our ships, of course, will display themselves more often in these waters,” he said. “We’ll see them very often.”

On Friday, after the release of a United Nations report on the Israeli raid, Turkey announced that it was downgrading its diplomatic and military ties with Israel and expelling the Israeli ambassador. The Turkish government was angered by Israel’s refusal to apologize for the deadly commando raid last year.

The United Nations report on the deaths of eight Turks and an American of Turkish origin on a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza called Israel’s blockade legitimate. But while it determined that the Israeli commandos had been attacked when they boarded the ship, it also found that the commandos used excessive force in responding. Turkey has demanded an apology from Israel, and Israel has said repeatedly that it regretted the deaths but would not apologize.

Mr. Erdogan’s speech came before a planned trip to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia next week, a visit widely perceived as an effort to strengthen Turkey’s role in the region.

Turkey was negotiating with Egyptian officials over whether Mr. Erdogan should also cross into Gaza, he said. Analysts in Turkey and Israel have warned that visiting Gaza would probably exacerbate the tensions between the two countries; many said Mr. Erdogan should give up plans for a stop in Gaza, which is controlled by the militant group Hamas, for fear of alienating Turkey’s Western allies.

In his speech, Mr. Erdogan also called for a suspension of agreements between Turkey and Israel, though his office later clarified that he meant military deals, not trade links. Despite escalating political and diplomatic tensions, the two countries have maintained normal trade relations, Zafer Caglayan, the Turkish economy minister, said Monday. Turkish exports to Israel totaled $1.5 billion in the first seven months of the year, with imports of $1.2 billion.

In addition to an apology, Turkey is demanding compensation for the relatives of those killed in the raid and an end to the Israeli embargo on Gaza — a prerequisite to normalized relations that analysts in Turkey say could serve instead to strain relations even further.

“We have taken these steps which would be followed with determination,” Mr. Erdogan said, “and other sanctions would follow during this process.”

The rift between Israel and Turkey had an immediate impact on airport security procedures as passengers of both countries complained about tightening measures last week. In response to the interrogation of about 40 Israelis upon arrival in Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight on Monday, Turkey pointed to intense security inspections of Turkish passengers in Tel Aviv Airport last week and said reciprocity was a basic principle in international customs procedures.

See Related: Turkey Archive








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