Turkey's trade ban with Israel 'driven by domestic pressure over Gaza war'

Ankara's decision will minimise contact between the two countries

A Turkish girl looks at a poster featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a pro-Palestinian protest in Istanbul. AP
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Turkey's move to halt all trade with Israel came amid mounting domestic pressure on Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government to take a firmer stance against a major economic partner over the devastating war in Gaza.

The move adds to previous curbs imposed by Ankara last month on key exports such as cement, steel and aviation fuel.

Although Turkey and Israel have not officially downgraded diplomatic ties, halting trade represents a significant step towards minimising contact between the two nations.

“Export and import transactions related to Israel have been stopped, covering all products,” Turkey’s Trade Ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.

“Turkey will strictly and decisively implement these new measures until the Israeli government allows an uninterrupted and sufficient flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza.” It did not specify the quantity of aid that it would consider sufficient to roll back the restrictions.

On Friday afternoon, Israel's Foreign Ministry responded to Turkey's ban, vowing to limit trade with Palestinians and to have sanctions imposed on Ankara for pulling out of trade agreements.

In a statement, the Ministry said it would take measures to reduce trade between Turkey, Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, claiming that Turkey is the PA's largest trade partner.

Israel will also appeal to international economic forums to examine sanctions against Turkey for violating trade agreements, and Israel's Foreign Minister has asked the far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to put forward an aid package for export sectors in Israel that may be harmed by the Turkish decision.

"We will not give in to Erdogan's blackmail and threats. The Israeli economy is stronger than a dictator like Erdogan who violates agreements and works in the service of Hamas," Mr Katz said in the statement.

"Those who take unilateral steps against the Israeli economy will receive a painful and appropriate answer. Erdogan wants to hurt Israel, but will mainly hurt the Palestinian economy," he added.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to questions about whether Turkey had informed Israel of the trade restrictions before they became public.

Domestic political pressure was thought to have been a significant factor in Mr Erdogan’s government taking more practical measures to reduce ties with Israel. The President’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered its biggest defeat in local elections this year, losing votes to more conservative Islamist parties who criticised Mr Erdogan for not cutting Turkey’s links with Israel.

While Turkey’s statement suggests the ban is temporary, observers warn it will damage the country’s reputation as a trustworthy partner.

“The blow to trust and the fact that Turkey's reliability as a trade partner is now in question will for sure cause long-term damage, and Israeli unwillingness to forget what happened and return to square one,” Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told The National.

Turkey and Israel have had a free-trade agreement in place since 1997 and major trade items include steel, oil and plastic.

Despite exchanges of bitter rhetoric since the Gaza war broke out on October 7 and the halting of flights between Istanbul and Tel Aviv, the two nations have remained economic partners. Trade volume between the two topped $7 billion last year, according to UN and Turkish Statistical Institute figures. Turkish exports to Israel represent about three quarters of the total trade.

The Turkish Trade Ministry did not say whether the restrictions extend to banning crude oil exports from Azerbaijan to Israel that transit through Turkey. Socar, the Azerbaijani state oil company, did not respond to a request for comment.

Other new developments are likely to affect the relationship. This week Turkey announced it would submit an intervention at the International Court of Justice to support South Africa’s case against Israel, and a Turkish man who entered Israel as a tourist was killed by security forces in Jerusalem after attempting to stab an Israeli policeman.

Turkey’s Trade Ministry on Thursday night said it was working with the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy to ensure Gazans would not be affected by the halt in trade with Israel, which controls the Palestinian Territories’ borders.

Updated: May 05, 2024, 6:33 AM