By Chase Lacy
Rabat- Israel and Turkey have had relatively stable relations since the creation of Israel. There have been some areas of tension, such as Israeli support for Kurdish independence, a hot topic because of Turkey’s large Kurdish population in its southern regions that seek independence.
Israel has been angered by the fact that Turkey has supported Palestine’s Hamas and allows them to operate offices on Turkish soil. Turkish President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) reportedly has ties with Hamas, and Israel suspects Erdogan loyalists have warmed to Iranian officials.
Relations became especially strained after the 2010 slaying of 10 Turkish activists on the ship Mavi Mamara. The ship was part of a flotilla attempting to break through the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid. Israeli commandos boarded the ship, and in the ensuing conflict, shot and killed 10 activists.
Turkey cut ties with Israel in response to the event, and tensions heightened again during the 2014 Gaza War, but in 2016 both countries undertook a diplomatic rapprochement.
Israel apologized for the Mavi Mamara event and agreed to pay the families of the victims $20 million. In exchange, Turkey dismissed arrest warrants for the Israeli military officers and soldiers involved. However, the remaining obstacles to rapprochement were Israel’s Gaza siege and Hamas offices operating in Turkey.
Turkey eventually relinquished its demand for Israel to lift the Gaza siege, and Israel allowed Turkey to conduct construction projects in Gaza if materials went through the port at Ashdod for inspection. On the other hand Israel agreed to allow Hamas government officials in Turkey to continue operations, however Turkey (reluctantly, as they do not label Hamas as a terror organization) expelled officials of Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam brigades.
In the past Turkey and Israel signed military training and defense industrial cooperation agreements, and Turkey permitted Israeli pilots to conduct training operations within Turkish airspace.
Turkey has even purportedly allowed Israel to use its territory for surveillance and intelligence on Syria and Iran.
The author by no means claims the two countries are friends. However, despite the tensions that have made headlines in recent years, economic trade between the countries has remained strong with some exceptions, such as a dip in Israeli tourism to Turkey during the aftermath of the Mavi Mamara debacle.
Turkish-Israeli trade has been valued in billions of US dollars for years, especially since they have an investment agreement, a free trade agreement, and a treaty to avoid double taxation signed in 1996. Both are also members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Trade reached a total of $4.3 billion in 2017, with Turkish exports—cars, metals, machinery, and textiles—to Israel reaching $2.9 million. Imports of primarily chemicals and refined oil from Israel totalled $1.4 billion.
In one sense, Syria’s bloody and brutal civil war has been advantageous for Israel, because it has become a throughway for Turkish exports destined for Jordan. Goods previously passed through Syria, but the situation has become too dangerous for freight drivers to use their old routes.
While most trade has been redirected to pass through Egypt, some has been redirected through Israel’s port at Haifa. From Haifa, trucks will drive to Jordan.
Turkish Airlines is the second largest carrier in Israel, only behind Israel’s national carrier El Al. Turkish Airlines transported over 1 million passengers to and from Israel in 2017.
Economic ties extend also to a lucrative gas deal Israel and Turkey are seeking to ink.
The plan is to build an undersea natural gas pipeline that will transport natural gas from Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar natural gas fields to Turkey. From Turkey the gas would be exported to Europe.
However, the US embassy move to Jerusalem and President Erdogan’s recent comments about the move have endangered the prospects of the deal being formalized. Erdogan said that Turkey “won’t leave Jerusalem to the mercy of a child killing nation,” and said, on record, that Israeli soldiers are “terrorists.”
However negotiations for the deal are still underway, and in fact oil tankers still continued their routes between the two countries. To solidify the deal, Turkey’s ruling AKP and the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) rejected a proposal by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) that would annul all political, military, and economic agreements with Israel and promptly impose sanctions.
Turkey’s willingness to let the Gaza siege remain in place for reconciliation shows that money has more value than the lives of Palestinians. If it continues to engage in multi-billion dollar trade with Israel, continues shipping goods through Israel, and persists in allowing businesses such as Turkish Airlines to operate in Israel, or if it signs the gas pipeline deal, then it is indeed willing to engage in partnership with what Erdogan calls “a child killing nation.”
This is the fourth in a 5-part opinion series evaluating the conduct of MENA region states in upholding their commitments to Palestine. Read the first part about Egypt here, the second about the Gulf states here, and the third about Lebanon and Jordan here.
The final part in this series will investigate the nature of Morocco’s relationship with Israel.