Germany’s government is signaling to Turkey that its patience is running out and it can hit back against escalating provocations, but has sought to stop well short of burning its bridges with its NATO ally.

More than a year of strains in the countries’ relationship came to a head this week with Turkey’s jailing of a German human rights activist, Peter Steudtner, who had no previous links to Turkey but was accused of links to terror groups.

A court jailed Steudtner along with five others from Turkey and Sweden days after Turkey blocked a visit by lawmakers to German troops serving in NATO air crews at a base in Turkey.

The accelerating pace of mini-crises with Turkey meant that German politicians felt they had no option but to give Ankara food for thought, after months in which they had held back. With a German election coming on September 24, there was added pressure to get tough.

Yet while Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Cabinet colleagues switched to harsher rhetoric on Thursday, Germany announced little drastic immediate action — giving Turkey a glimpse of what damage could await but also leaving room for an improvement in relations. And as Gabriel noted, Berlin is keen to avoid a situation in which Germany’s own ethnic Turkish minority “falls between stools.”

Gabriel cast doubt on the future of government export guarantees to insure German companies’ investments in Turkey, as they do in many other countries, arguing that “you cannot advise anyone to invest in a country if there is no longer legal security.”

He didn’t immediately announce concrete steps, but Germany’s exporters association noted that many companies had already put investments on hold, and that losing out on Turkish business wouldn’t badly affect the foreign trade of the European Union’s biggest economy.

On Friday, the Economy Ministry said all applications for the export of defense equipment to Turkey are being put under examination. It didn’t elaborate.

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