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Turkey and Israel Economic Relations: The Buck Does Not Stop Here

Despite the acrimonious relationship portrayed in the media, Turkey and Israel are indispensable partners in the Middle East region. Both Erdogan and Netanyahu have degraded one another’s character by throwing insults at each another; Erdogan has compared Netanyahu to “Hitler” and declared that Netanyahu is a “terrorist”. In response to the Israel Defense Force’s killing of 60 Palestinian protesters on May 14, 2018, Erdogan has claimed that “Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of an apartheid state”, who “has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and can’t cover up crimes by attacking Turkey”. Bibi aggressively responded by tweeting on May 15, 2018 that, “Erdogan is among Hamas's biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter. I suggest that he not preach morality to us”.

However, these public criticisms do not disrupt the fact that Turkey and Israel are critical economic allies in the region. In 2016, Turkey and Israel have implemented the provisions of the normalization agreement, which formalizes ties between the two nations. The mainstream media fails to cite the vital economic ties that allow for the Turkish-Israeli relationship to sustain for this long despite the antagonistic relationship between Netanyahu and Erdogan. Turkey and Israel have been trading billions of dollars in imports and exports including Turkish automobile exports and Israeli fuel and oil imports for years. Turkish-Israeli relations are a prime example of how economic ties transcend the personal chemistry between world leaders to ensure the durability of a crucial relationship.

In 2014, Turkey became Israel’s sixth largest trading partner with a trade volume of $5.5 billion. Despite the contentious Turkish-Israeli relationship after the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010, only the relationship between Turkey and Israel on the governmental level was significantly impacted. Bilateral trade growth was not altered and was concentrated on the private sectors in response to trade at the governmental level ceasing following the conflict. The flotilla crisis amounted to Turkey attempting to breach Israel’s and Egypt’s blockade on Gaza, resulting in the death of 10 Turkish activists on board a ship that was part of the Turkish flotilla. This controversial event resulted in a six-year diplomatic rift between the two nations. Yet, in 2016 both Turkey and Israel revitalized relations. For instance, Israel has paid $22 million as compensation to the families of the nine Turks killed in the Mavi Marmara incident, has alleviated some of the barriers on Turkish imports into Gaza through Israel, and has not attempted to prohibit Turkey as it tries to embark on humanitarian projects in Gaza.

The rift was settled because Turkey and Israel share common threat perceptions such as the ongoing war in Syria with both countries cautious of Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah influence in the region, as well as being concerned about the Assad regime. However, significant trade dependence ultimately allowed for bilateral ties between the two countries to remain unaltered. Notwithstanding hostile rhetoric and tensions between the two countries, existing trade agreements have not ceased or been altered. In addition, bilateral cooperation mechanisms between Turkey and Israel have stayed in place. For example, the fourth meeting of the Turkey-Israel Joint Economic Commission was held on November 24. 2009 in Ankara under the co-presidency of H.E. Vecdi Gönül, the former Minister of Defense of Turkey and the former Israeli Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Ben Eliezer.

In the face of ill will shared among their leaders, Turkey and Israel revitalized ties in June 2016. Since then, the two trading partners have had their economic alliance with one other flourish. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), in 2017 Israel was Turkey’s 10th largest export market. From 2016 to 2017, Turkey’s exports to Israel increased by 15.3%. Turkey’s main exports to Israel include automobiles, steel, iron, electrical devices, and plastic to Israel, with 16% of Turkish exports to Israel comprising of automobiles. Exports from Turkey to Israel amount to $2.63 billion in total trade. In turn, Turkey imports Israeli oil and fuel. 39% of Israeli imports to Turkey are refined petroleum.

Exports to Israel were valued at $2.5 billion in 2016 and Israel was Turkey’s 10th largest export market, with exports to Israel expanding by 9.5%. Israeli imports to Turkey in 2016 amounted to $1.38 billion in total trade. While politics often go hand in hand with economics, Turkish-Israeli economic ties are far from being curtailed or impaired.

While Erdogan may have threatened to halt economic relations with Israel in June 2018, Erdogan never followed suit on his threats; this incident shows how often empty rhetoric is prevalent among politicians because ultimately viable economic relations are essential in regards to countries who are dependent on trading with other countries in our interconnected global world. Citing the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, bilateral trade between Turkey and Israel added up to $4.3 billion in 2017, 11% more than the previous year. Several years prior there had been a consecutive decline in the bilateral economic relationship with only $2.9 billion in imports and $1.4 billion in exports.

Hatice Karahan, Erdogan’s top economic adviser, avowed to the news publication DW News that economic relations between Turkey and Israel represented a “win-win situation” for both nations as, “Turkey exports automobiles, iron, steel, electrical devices, and plastic to Israel. And in returns, it imports Israeli fuel and oil”. Turkey recognizes the imperative nature of establishing economic ties with Israel as signified by Turkey’s decision to appoint a commercial attaché to its embassy in Tel Aviv in July 2018. The mainstream media neglected to report on this powerful showcase of Israeli-Turkish economic ties.

The case of Turkish-Israeli bilateral economic relations demonstrates how the mainstream media chooses to report on the belligerent rhetoric of leaders because sensationalism is what sells. As a result of the mainstream media advocating for a certain narrative that highlights contention between leaders and countries, the citizenry is deprived of understanding the bigger picture of what truly unites countries’ relations- economic and security concerns. Turkey and Israel continue to share a consequential relationship in the Middle East region because they both need one another in order to flourish economically and secure their own borders.

Gabrielle is an AU senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a minor in Economics with thematic area focuses include Foreign Policy & National Security,  and Global & Comparative Governance with a regional focus in the Middle East. Currently, she is an intern for Congressman Peter Roskam from Illinois' sixth district, who serves as co-chair of the Republican Israel caucus. In addition, Gabrielle serves as a David Project Intern looking to establish relationships with non-Jewish communities on campus!

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