Turkey reportedly freezes all trade with Israel

Turkey reportedly freezes all trade with Israel
Among the exports sent across the Mediterranean from Turkey to Israel is Azerbaijani oil. / shiphub.co
By bne IntelliNews May 2, 2024

Turkish officials were on May 2 cited as saying Turkey has frozen all trade with Israel over the latter’s actions in the war in Gaza.

There was no formal announcement of the move by Ankara, but Bloomberg reported two officials as saying Turkey was blocking all exports and imports to and from Israel.

The apparent boycott quickly drew an angry response from Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz. “This is the behavior of a dictator who tramples the interests of the Turkish people and business community, while ignoring international trade agreements,” he posted on X, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The lack of an official announcement from Turkey meant many questions—such as does the ban on trade preclude the continuation of Azerbaijani oil exports to Israel via Turkish Mediterranean transhipment facilities—went unanswered.

Last month, Erdogan appeared to respond to criticism at home from religious conservatives that Turkey, despite his fierce condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza, was continuing to trade with Israel. On April 9, Erdogan officials announced that Turkey would suspend the sale of 54 products to Israel, particularly items used for construction and military purposes. But the criticism that Erdogan was too soft on Israel—despite his angry rhetoric that condemns Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as a “butcher” and a genocidal war criminal—continued.

In the end-of-March local elections, many religious hardliners deserted Erdogan’s ruling AKP party and switched to New Welfare, an increasingly popular Islamist party, demanding Turkey freeze all trade with Israel. The damaging desertion of at least a million voters in the polls came despite Turkey’s strongman very publicly rolling out the red carpet for a visit by Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Palestinian group Hamas, which Israel is at war with in Gaza.

For two decades, Erdogan and his AKP have benefitted from a near-monopoly over Turkey’s Islamist vote. New Welfare’s emergence has ended that era.

Trade between Turkey and Israel was worth $6.8bn in 2023, of which 76% was Turkish exports, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK, or TurkStat).

Turkey’s biggest export to Israel last year was iron and steel. It’s biggest import was refined oil products. 

On May 1, Turkey announced plans to join South Africa’s case at the United Nations’ highest court as a plaintiff accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza.

Israel and Turkey restored diplomatic ties last August. That followed a decade of tensions. The two countries were intent on expanding ties and economic cooperation until the Gaza war was triggered by Hamas conducting the brutal October 7 attack on the Jewish state, killing an estimated 1,136 Israeli citizens and taking around 250 hostage.

Erdogan describes Hamas militants as “freedom fighters”, though even his main rival in Turkish politics, Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, calls the group “terrorist”. He has repeatedly hit out at Israel’s conduct in the war. Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say the conflict has taken the lives of 34,000 Palestinians.

Last month, asked about Turkey's continuing trade with Israel despite his harsh condemnation of the Israelis, Erdogan said that Turkey no longer continued "intense trade" with Israel.

A free trade agreement between the two countries came into force in 1997.