From Turkey to Tel Aviv

Trade Diplomacy

A Palestinian youth draped in a Turkish flag looks at the Gaza Seaport during a rally in support of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Gaza City June 18, 2013. Suhaib Salem / Reuters

Hardly a week goes by without some barb or insult traded between Turkey and Israel. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly slights Israel on an almost daily basis to drum up domestic political support, for example asserting that Israel’s treatment of Gaza surpasses the brutality of the Nazi regime. Things weren’t always this way. The 1990s and most of the 2000s saw warm diplomatic and political ties between Israel and Turkey. But these days there seems to be a diplomatic standstill. 

Even so, despite harsh rhetoric and a suspension of top-level diplomatic engagement, Israeli-Turkish trade has grown by 19 percent since 2009, while Turkey’s overall foreign trade for the same period grew by 11 percent. Since few nations with strong trade ties escalate conflicts to the point of going to war with each other, Israeli-Turkish economic ties may signal the prospects of improved bilateral relations. With the economic and political outlook remaining bleak throughout the Middle East, the two nations have more reasons than ever to resolve their political differences—or to at least separate them from economic relations.


Turkey and Israel’s diplomatic ties began deteriorating at the January 2009 World Economic Forum. During a heated debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Israel’s Gaza offensive, then Prime Minister Erdogan accused Israel of barbarism, telling Peres, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.” In May 2010, Israeli commandoes attacked the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish humanitarian-aid vessel that tried to breach the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, killing nine Turkish activists on board and prompting Ankara to withdraw its ambassador to Israel. Relations worsened in August 2013 when Erdogan accused Israel of being complicit in the military coup that ousted former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. In January 2015, Erdogan said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no right to partake in an antiterrorism march in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks given Israel’s activities in Gaza. Erdogan’s support for Hamas has also stunted relations

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