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Turkey-Israel Trade Remains Strong Despite Tensions

  • Dorian Jones

FILE - An employee stands behind a sign depicting a crossed out Turkish flag taped to the window of a coffee shop in Tel Aviv, Oct. 27, 2009.

FILE - An employee stands behind a sign depicting a crossed out Turkish flag taped to the window of a coffee shop in Tel Aviv, Oct. 27, 2009.

Despite a current low point in diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey, trade between the countries continues to grow.

Turkey once ranked as Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world, taking part in joint exercises with the Israeli and American navies in the Mediterranean and allowing Israeli jet pilots to train in Turkey’s relatively vast airspace.

But since 2010, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens on a ship trying to break Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, diplomatic ties have hit a low point.

Adding to the tension were reports earlier this month that the Turkish government had disclosed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers.

The reports claimed Israeli intelligence had run part of its Iranian spy network through Turkey, whose border with Iran allows relatively easy movement between the two countries.

Despite the ongoing political tensions, however, trade between the two countries has remained largely unaffected.

Menashe Carmon is president of the Israel-Turkey Business Council.

"Politicians are coming and going and the business people remain. The tensions between the two countries are not tensions between the people. The trade between them is continuing. Trade volume is around $4 billion and this year we are expecting an increase," said Carmon.

Bilateral trade covers a wide range of goods, from foodstuffs to machinery to high tech. The figure $4 billion trade figure does not include military sales.

Israel has supplied, among other things, advanced electronic warfare systems to the Turkish Air Force. And, despite bilateral tensions, Ankara has continued to honor its military contracts with Israel.

But the Israel-Turkey Business Council's Carmon said there has been some fallout. While some well-established private sector Israeli-Turkish business relationships continue to thrive. "Newcomers [who want] to invest in Turkey are reluctant, saying: 'I will wait until this crisis will [be] over, then I will consider an investment.'"

One thing that will contribute to an increase in bilateral trade is the Syria conflict.

According to Semih Idiz, a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf and the al-Monitor website, Turkish exporters have been using Israel as a trade corridor in recent months, docking their vessels in Israeli ports and then transporting goods overland to Jordan and other Arab countries in order to bypass the civil war in Syria.

"Transit routes over Syria, and even perhaps over the Suez, may be sort of blocked -- if not fully, [then] partially. And it would make a lot of sense for Turkey to use - especially by sea route - Israel as [a] distribution point to other parts," said Idiz.

Despite an apology by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkey for the killings of the Turkish activists and talks over compensation to their families, observers do not expect any significant change in the current cool diplomatic relations. But the ongoing trade between the two countries remains an important indicator that despite the tensions, ties remain that could help warm relations in the future.