HomeWorldTurkey, Israel Swap Trade Threats With Gaza Tension Rising

Turkey, Israel Swap Trade Threats With Gaza Tension Rising

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Turkey’s decision to restrict exports to Israel for opposing its proposal to drop aid over the Gaza Strip drew a swift retaliatory response, further straining already tense relations between the one-time military allies.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, facing growing criticism at home for maintaining trade ties with Israel amid its ongoing war on Hamas, on Tuesday imposed restrictions on the export of dozens of items to the Jewish state. Israel’s foreign minister answered with a threat to block the import of other Turkish products. 

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Before the fighting in Gaza erupted in October, Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were exploring ways to increase cooperation in energy and trade, and advance a nascent thaw in relations after more than a decade of tensions. Both were seeking a broader rapprochement with other Middle Eastern states as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered a geopolitical shift in the region by disrupting supply chains and commodity markets. 

Now the improved diplomacy has been derailed along with bilateral trade, which was largely spared even after ties hit a low after a 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla headed to Gaza. 

Turkey’s exports to Israel slumped an annual 28% to $1.9 billion during the first five months of the war, data from the Turkish Statistics Office show. Manufactured goods, which include construction materials, are the biggest component — representing a third of the $714 million shipped in the first two months of the year.

Israel’s total gross import of goods in 2023 was $91 billion, of which $4.6 billion came from Turkey — making it the country’s fifth-largest supplier. 

Turkish Demonstrations 

Erdogan’s move came after thousands of Islamist protesters denounced him over the weekend for maintaining trade with Israel. The demonstrations took place a week after the president suffered an historic defeat in local elections marked by similar criticism from grassroots conservative voters, who supported a rival Islamist party that took a harder line against Israel.

Read More: Islamist Gains Are Fresh Headache for Erdogan After Vote Defeat

Turkey’s Trade Ministry announced a ban on the shipment of 54 items, including products that could be used for military purposes and construction materials like cement, steel, iron and aluminum. Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz fired back with a pledge to draft an extensive list of additional Turkish goods that Israel will stop importing and even appealed to his nation’s allies, including the US, to stop investing in Turkey. The Turkish lira weakened.

Turkey’s “decision will remain in effect until Israel declares an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and allows a sufficient and uninterrupted flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip,” the Trade Ministry said, accusing Israel of condemning Palestinians to hunger.

Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said late Monday that Israel rejected a request by the Turkish Air Force to parachute aid packages into Gaza, and vowed to “take a series of measures” in response.

Israel accused Turkey of supporting Hamas as the two nations remain divided over the status of Palestinian territories. Turkey is a NATO member, but unlike the US and the European Union doesn’t consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Erdogan has called the group’s militants “freedom fighters,” though he’s stopped short of cutting ties with Israel altogether.

“Erdogan is once again sacrificing the economic interests of the people of Turkey for his support of Hamas,” Katz said. 

Economic Independence

The Manufacturers Association of Israel said Turkey’s actions will reinforce its efforts to reduce dependence on imports. 

A ban on the import of Turkish cement in particular could be a major concern, as Israel has only a single operating cement factory of its own. That could increase pressure on Israel’s construction sector, of which large parts are at a standstill due to its heavy reliance on Palestinian workers.

Turkey and Israel have previously held joint military exercises, but relations frayed when Israel invaded Gaza in December 2008. Erdogan, whose party has Islamist roots, accused the Jewish state of using excessive force and his administration canceled military ties and backed the Palestinian bid for statehood. 

With assistance from Alisa Odenheimer, Beril Akman, Patrick Sykes, Baris Balci and Galit Altstein.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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