MESOP COMMENTARY : BY ALI BULAC – Turkish growing Trade with Israel

Trade with Israel : 15-Aug – 2014 – It is said that there has been a “serious crisis” between Turkey and Israel since the 2010 Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turks dead, but in reality, there is no problem with the commercial and economic ties between the two countries.- The foreign trade volume between the two countries rose from $4.022 billion in 2011 to $4.858 billion in 2013. “Turkey is one of the 10 most important economic partners of Israel,” says Ekrem Demirtaş, the head of the executive board of the İzmir Chamber of Commerce (İTO).

Until recently, there were 11 flights a day between the two countries. Among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, Turkey ranks fifth in terms of Israel’s exports and sixth in terms of its imports. The commodities sold by Israel are food, machinery and advanced technology products. Israel buys plastics, rubber, textiles, concrete, ceramics, glass machinery and automotive products from Turkey.

Commenting on Israel’s recent attacks against Gaza, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç underlined that the bilateral trade ties with Israel continue uninterrupted and it is impossible to halt commercial transactions. An analysis of the statistics provided by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) reveals that Turkey sells military equipment to Israel. Since 2010, Turkey exported weapons and ammunition worth about $11 million.

The recent Syrian crisis particularly played into hands of Israel. As a result of the crisis, giant ferries depart from the İskenderun port and anchor at the port of Haifa in Israel. These giant ferries carry Turkish semi-trailer trucks which can then travel to Arab countries.

In a letter the Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKEK) sent to the Chamber of Shipping on Sept. 3, 2013, a tender was to be opened for the shipment of one 20-foot (6-meter) and one 40-foot (12 meter) container full of 31,508 120-millimeter tank shells. However, the official announcement in the wake of the Mavi Marmara attack was that Turkey had postponed arms procurement deals with Israel. “We are no longer buying weapons from Israel,” the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry declared in April 2011. However, Brig. Gen. Shemaya Avieli, the head of the Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SIBAT), had said that “defense exports to Turkey were never halted, and are weighed according to the interests of the State of Israel. The relationship that existed in recent years hasn’t continued, but if you look at the numbers — defense exports to Turkey were not zero. There are new demands from Turkey and we are examining them.”

There is more. It is no secret that the oil coming from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey via pipelines is indirectly sold to Israel via tankers. The Prime Ministry’s statement does not deny the indirect sales. Moreover, the Shalom newspaper, the representative of the Turkish Jewish community, reported that according to a news story that appeared in the Yedioth Ahoronot newspaper, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Burak Erdoğan maintained his trade ties with Israel. The newspaper wrote that Burak Erdoğan 95-meter cargo ship “Safran1” shuttled between Israel’s Ashdod port and Turkey many times. Moreover, his other ships traveled to Israeli and Egyptian ports many times, even after this news story appeared.

Should the Turkish government implement a boycott? A general boycott is problematic. Many Western countries in particular, including the US, are enforcing boycotts which are mostly cruel to Muslim countries. For example, Iran and Iraq suffered greatly from such boycotts in the past. Hundreds of thousands of children have died due to lack of food or medicine in Iraq. Gaza is already a de facto concentration camp.

Islamic scholars do not endorse a general boycott. Even in a case of war, a general boycott is not permissible if there is the risk of any damage to civilians. For Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanifi school of Islamic jurisprudence, it is forbidden to sell materials which can be used to produce weapons to those who are at war. Quran 2:126 prohibits the punishment of people by keeping them hungry. In this case, Turkey should stop selling arms and ammunition and oil to Israel as a minimum.