by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 1, Rajab, 1441)
In most conflicts, parties are forced to sit down at a negotiating table because both sides realize that neither is strong enough to win. Similarly, the resisting side may be able to inflict significant damage on the aggressor.
The main reason Zionist Israel can press the Palestinians for total capitulation is because many Israeli-backed autocratic regimes in the Muslim world do not provide any support for Palestinian self-defence. Apart, from Islamic Iran, no one provides Palestinians with the means of self-defense.
Israeli occupation forces on the other hand, are subsidized by many NATO regimes. The Zionist regime receives $3.8 billion annually from the US alone. This will continue until 2028.
To provide Palestinians with the means of self-defense would require a great deal of political stamina and determination which many Muslim regimes do not have due to lack of popular legitimacy and dependence on foreign backing. However, one would think that a country like Turkey that claims to follow an independent policy should have little problem cutting trade links with Israel.
The occupying Zionist regime is a subsidized entity and would not last without the handouts from US-NATO regimes. That is why some political scientists in the Middle East identify Israel as NATO’s outpost in the region.
Taking into account the Turkish government’s pro-Palestinian public rhetoric, its trade policy towards Israel is very business friendly and thus, anti-Palestinian. It provides Israel with economic means to continue occupying Palestine.
At the height of Turkish-Israeli “hostilities”, a study on their trade relations conducted by the neo-con think-tank, Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), showed that Turkish-Israeli trade in 2011 increased by 30.7 percent from the previous year. According to a report in the Turkish daily, Hurriyet, Turkish-Israeli trade “has now increased by around 60 percent, reaching $5.6 billion.” Most Muslims infatuated with Turkey’s Ottoman past tend to overlook this double standard while the Israelis openly ridicule Ankara’s policy.
On February 5, the Jerusalem Post reported Benjamin Netanyahu stating that he must be the only Israeli who doesn’t travel to Turkey and also mocked Erdogan by saying “once he [Turkish president] used to call me Hitler every three hours, now it’s every six hours but thank God the trade [between Israel and Turkey] is up!”
Many Islamic oriented pro-AKP supporters in the Muslim world attempt to justify Erdogan’s economic lifeline to Israel in terms of realpolitik. Stating that Turkey needs to do business with Israel for greater geopolitical goals, they fail to identify and define these goals within the Islamic paradigm. However, the same constituency would not seek excuses for Erdogan if he were to adopt a more lenient approach towards the Syrian government. This is partly due to the success of infusing sectarianism into the Muslim Ummah through decades of Saudi propaganda.
It would be unrealistic to expect Turkey to significantly limit trade ties with large economies like the US or China. However, it is completely possible for Turkey to squeeze Israel economically for its crimes against the Palestinians. This analysis is backed by experts in the field. Speaking to Crescent International on condition of anonymity, former high-ranking economics ministry official of Turkey concurred that “there is no practical reason why Turkey cannot afford to put in place an economic embargo against Israel, if it wants to.” Thus, it is important to look at the impediments Erdogan faces and needs to overcome in order not to provide an economic life-line to an apartheid regime in Palestine.
One of the primary problems of not tackling Israeli-Turkish trade is that the AKP leadership approaches this issue strictly from a foreign policy angle. While this may be partly true, it should be borne in mind that Israel was always a staunch backer of militant-secularism in Turkey, especially its military wing within Turkish politics. To this day, Israel boasts of very close cooperation with Turkish generals in the 1990s, the same generals which used to imprison many of today’s AKP’s rank and file activists, including Erdogan himself. There is also circumstantial evidence that today Israeli linked outfits are co-operating with the Gulenist cult, an arch enemy of the contemporary Turkish state system. In 2016, the Gulenists tried to overthrow Erdogan’s government by instigating a military coup.
Over the past few years, the Israeli media has been actively calling to support the coup-plotting cult leader. If Syria, Iran or Tunisia were to adopt such a positive view of the Gulenist cult, Ankara would certainly have a harsher reaction.
Also, strictly from the Machiavellian angle, a perspective unfortunately far better understood and widely practiced in politics, Erdogan would greatly benefit from cutting the Zionist regime out of the trade game with Turkey. It would greatly boost Erdogan’s standing among the Turkish people and the wider Muslim and non-Muslim societies. Proven to be a skillful populist, this perhaps might be the primary motivation for Erdogan to at least reduce trade with the regional bully, Israel. With AKP’s popularity and membership sliding, this might just be the safest populist step Erdogan could take.
Looking at the issue from a strictly economical perspective, if Turkey decides to not trade with Israel, it will probably face a backlash from NATO countries. However, if that were to happen, many Muslims would opt to purchase Turkish products and do business with Turkey. While this would not offset Western economic pressure completely, it could help ease it somewhat. We should not forget that after Israel massacred nine innocent Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara ship in May 2010 and Erdogan walked out on Shimon Peres in Davos a few months later, tourism from the Muslim world to Turkey skyrocketed. The reason was that most Muslim tourists supported Turkey’s public anti-Zionist stance.
Also, the amount of economic pressure Western countries can apply on Turkey for a prolonged period is limited. Turkey has some strong socio-economic leverages. For example, Turkey dominates the global hazelnut market with an estimated share of 67.1%. Would Germans and Italians accept paying triple the price for hazelnut-based products if Turkey retaliates by raising the price because Western governments put Israel first? With the means of modern communication, if Muslim countries explain to people in the West that they are paying triple the price for hazelnuts, olive oil, petrol, and palm oil because their regimes see Zionist impunity as more important than their own peoples’ well-being, few governments in Europe or North America would be able to justify their pro-Zionist stance to their people.
On the social front, Turkey is a gateway to Europe for many refugees escaping Western instigated wars in the Middle East. On numerous occasions Erdogan has threatened to open the gates for refugees trying to flee to Europe if the EU does not provide more funding to Turkey for housing millions of Syrian refugees. Thus, it cannot be ruled out that if NATO regimes were to subject Turkey to stiff economic pressure over cutting trade with Israel, Erdogan could easily retaliate.
Many Muslim regimes cannot take a strong anti-Zionist stance because they lack popular support. Western powers could easily replace them through covert or overt destabilization policies as happened with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia in 1975. Even if people disagree with some of Turkey’s policies, unlike most other Muslim governments, they have genuine mass popular support. If Ankara chooses to pressure Israel economically, there is not much Israel can do in retaliation.
In moments like these, Muslim leadership needs Taqwa and Tawakkul. Every Muslim leader can act “Islamic” at conferences, what happens after is the key issue. It should be remembered that when Imam Khomeini (ra) overthrew the Western backed Pahlavi autocracy, one of the first decrees he issued was to cut all relations with Zionist Israel and the apartheid regime in South Africa. Iran could have played “realpolitik”. It has no territorial dispute with Israel and could benefit by trading with apartheid South Africa especially during the early days of the revolution but it did not. On certain issues moral principles must always supersede short-term political and economic benefits.