Turkey protests
Turks protesting outside the Ankara home of Israel’s ambassador, Gabby Levy. Photo by AP
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Turkey may review its trade relations with Israel following the clash between Israel Navy forces and a flotilla bound for Gaza on Monday.

"The inhumane attitude and the state terror conducted by Israel may cause the discarding of all trade figures, no matter how high they might be," Zafer Caglayan, minister of state for foreign trade and a member of the ruling party AKP, told the press in Ankara yesterday.

The extent of bilateral trade between Israel and Turkey was $2.5 billion in 2009.

Caglayan added that Turkey exerts "the best of our efforts" to boost trading relations with all countries. But nothing is beyond Turkey's national and moral values, he said.

The implication that Ankara would boycott trade with Israel is more extreme in nuance than the statements emanating from the Turkish business sector, which may reflect a difference of opinion between the business community and the Islamic government.

MUSIAD, the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen's Association, yesterday condemned the Israeli action, in which nine activists were killed. But MUSIAD did not call for a boycott in retaliation. The organization did say that the "Israeli assault" had "damaged ties of fraternity," adding that it shows that Israel will not "respect human rights."

"With the most recent assault in international waters on unarmed ships which were carrying only humanitarian aid to Gaza, Israel has shown the entire world that it will not allow any peaceful attempt in the region and will not respect human rights. It is high time the world said 'stop' to the perpetrators of the bloody assault," MUSIAD said in its statement, and called on the international community and the United Nations to review their approach to Israel. But as said, it did not suggest a boycott.

President Salim Uslu, the president of the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions, also issued a statement harshly critical of Israel, saying it had committed a crime by attacking civilians carrying aid to Gaza, and called on the international community to punish Israel for its violence. The Confederation called on the UN, NATO, the European Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League to take action and stop Israel's "dirty game."

'Gov'ts come and go'

Over at the campus of the Bogazici (Bosphorus ) University in Istanbul, placards were hung calling for a boycott of Israeli products.

"This does not reflect the opinion of the business sector and of the Turkish intelligentsia," commented Murat Akman of Elan Bilisim Trojbleri, a company that develops software applications in Israel for clients in Turkey.

"Governments come and go, but business partnerships stay," he continued. "Partnerships like this are for the long run. When you have a joint technological project, it goes from one generation to the second generation to the third one."

Akman does believe that the present situation will affect Turkish-Israeli relations in the short run, which means that Israeli companies will be barred from Turkish government tenders. Also, the Turkish public might proscribe Israeli products, he says. Yet he, for one, is confident that in the longer term, the security alliance between Turkey and Israel - which has cooled of late - will be fully reinstated. "Neither Turkey nor Israel can afford to stop joint projects," Akman says.

Ankara may declare a stop to projects, but they will resume, whether the project involves upgrading tanks or accessorizing jet fighters.

As for business relations in the long run, Turkey and Israel are the only two real democracies in the Middle East, Akman points out, adding, "The Arabs have betrayed us before." He sees no reason why the Palestinian problem should become his own, for instance.

The next election in Turkey is scheduled for spring or summer 2011, depending on the outcome of a public referendum to be held this September.

Akman suspects that because of the economic situation and the deterioration in diplomatic relations with the West, the ruling Islamic party will lose power and might even lose power.