Turkish-Israeli trade booms despite bitter rhetoric against Israel

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Though the government has been harshly criticizing Israel in recent years over its repressive policies and violent interventions in Palestine, to the surprise of many, it has been revealed that despite cold diplomatic relations, bilateral trade with Israel has boomed recently.

Tensions between Turkey and Israel escalated after an incident in 2009 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, when then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stormed out of a panel discussion after lambasting Israeli President Shimon Perez. Tensions mounted further in 2010 when the Mavi Marmara, a Gaza-bound aid flotilla vessel, was attacked by Israeli marines who boarded the ship and wound up killing eight Turkish civilians and one Turkish-American. In spite of these events, trade between the two countries has risen steadily.

Turkey's mutual trade volume with Israel reached over $5.6 billion in 2014 -- a nearly 50 percent increase from 2009 -- despite lingering diplomatic tension between the two, official figures show.  

Data from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) shows that the mutual trade volume totaled $2.6 billion in 2009. Turkish exports to Israel jumped to $2.92 billion in 2014 from $1.5 billion in 2009, while imports from Israel increased to $2.7 billion from $1.1 billion in the same period.

Faruk Loğoğlu, a main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Adana deputy and former Turkish ambassador to the US, said that ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) criticism of Israel's actions is nothing more than populism.

Stressing that it is no one's desire to see Turkey and Israel in conflict, Loğoğlu criticized the government for pursuing a “cheap and dishonest” policy.

“The AK Party acts pragmatically with Israel as well as the US and the European Union,” said Loğoğlu.

Another example of inconsistency in Turkish foreign policy was Erdoğan's recent conflicting statements regarding the Turkish government's attitude toward the EU.

Erdoğan had said “We don't care whether the EU allows [us into the EU],” in response to EU criticism about the detention of multiple journalists in December of last year.

However, later, Erdoğan told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that Turkey joining the bloc would be a "strategic choice.”

Turkish opposition parties had called on the government to revise trade ties with Israel following violent Israeli air, naval and ground strikes in Gaza last summer.

Common exports from Turkey include iron and steel, electrical machinery, vehicles, minerals and textiles.

In addition to trade, earlier reports of Ankara's alleged role in the sale of oil from the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq to Israel, bypassing the central government, led Turkish opposition parties to accuse Erdoğan of hypocrisy in his pro-Palestinian rhetoric. The two main opposition parties, the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), blame Erdoğan for disingenuously exploiting the Gaza conflict for domestic political gain.

Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the İstanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), spoke with Sunday's Zaman and offered another reason for the increase in trade with Israel despite diplomatic disagreements, saying that the economy has its own course and follows a different path from politics.

“The Turkish economy is open to the world; therefore, goods are imported or exported according to the needs of the economy. If the state were to have a grip on the economy [as in socialist states], the opposite would be the case, as the state then determines the needs of the economy. Turkey has a liberal economy, so an increase in trade with Israel should be considered in light of these arguments,” said Ülgen.

Israeli mining firm said to have been favored over Turkish rivals

Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici recently claimed that an Israeli mining company recently obtained a license for mineral exploration in Turkey, while recalling also that the licenses of several local mining companies had been suspended for what many believe were political reasons.

One such firm, Koza Altın A.Ş., which belongs to Akın İpek, the owner of leading media outlets critical of the government, had its mining activities halted by the government in 2013 when the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning did not renew the company's permit to extract gold at several mine sites in Central Anatolia.

Speaking to the private Bugün TV channel on Thursday, Destici said that the government acts inconsistently, having granted an Israeli firm the right to open gold mines while at the same time using harsh rhetoric against Israeli politicians over the killing of innocent Palestinians and the inhumane conditions in Gaza.

Destici also noted that during a recent meeting with farmers from Niğde province, a farmer claimed that he had met with several Israelis in Niğde who introduced themselves as employees of a company currently setting up a facility in Niğde to extract gold.

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