Turkey and Israel: business as usual after the Mavi Marmara

May 06, 2012, Sunday/ 13:59:00

Economic relations between Turkey and Israel have not been impacted by the political crisis that resulted between the two nations following a raid by Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmara ship, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish American.

Turkey's top officials declared, following the attack, that Israel would suffer the consequences, describing the incident as “state terror.” Yet although Turkey has taken political measures against Israel, including downgrading diplomatic relations to the level of second secretary, boycotting Israel's national day reception held by its embassy in Ankara and suspending all military agreements, it has so far not taken any concrete economic measures as part of this response.

In fact, on the trade front, business continues as usual. Last year mutual trade significantly increased. In 2011, imports from Israel reached an all-time high with $2 billion; the figure was only $1.360 billion the previous year, while the exports amounted to $2.4 billion, up from $2 billion in 2010, the year in which the Mavi Marmara, carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, was raided on May 31.

In the first three months of 2012, mutual trade kept up the pace of the previous year at $1 billion, but with a significant rise compared to the same period in 2011, when the figure was $770 million.

The only area of Turkish-Israeli relations badly affected besides military cooperation seems to be tourism. Last year the number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey was around 80,000, a decrease of nearly 30 percent compared to 2010. But Israeli officials have recently announced they have downgraded the warning against travel to Turkey, which might serve to increase the number of Israeli tourists.

Co-operative Group, Britain's fifth largest food retailer, which recently announced that it will expand its boycott of Israeli goods, has an attitude that stands in stark contrast to that of the Turkish government. The company recently declared it will boycott all Israeli companies that source any goods in settlement areas occupied by Israel. Yet Murat Bilhan, vice chairman of the Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies (TASAM), does not see anything wrong with the flourishing trade between the two countries, saying, “In international relations, you need to separate trade from politics.”

Speaking to Today's Zaman, Bilhan noted that international politics is an area where interests, and not emotions, should reign, but emphasized that Turkey should do its best within the framework of international law to protect the rights of the victims of the Mavi Marmara. He also finds Turkey's demand that Israel should express regret on account of the raid an emotional response which will bring no solid gain.

Atilla Sandıklı, chairman of the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM), also believes economic relations should be considered separately from politics. “The incident is a political one, and the struggle continues within this context,” he commented to Today's Zaman, also noting that Turkey is in the black in its trade with Israel. But he believes it is not easy to exert pressure on Israel through international platforms or international jurisdiction, given that Israel is generally not a member of such international bodies yet holds considerable sway over them. Sandıklı finds Turkey's attitude positive, saying, “With its attitude, Turkey demonstrates it is not necessarily hostile to Israel, but is only reacting to lawlessness.”

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