Turkey is the second largest Israeli export market in MENA, and the GCC bloc comes third.
The prime minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan, and various officials of his ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) have recently been busy giving fiery speeches denouncing Israel for the ongoing massacre in Gaza. At first sight, with all that anti-Zionist rhetoric, the AKP may appear to be a staunch supporter of the struggle of Palestinians. However, when one assesses objectively the nature of the relations between Turkey and Israel that have been in place during the 11-year AKP rule in terms of economic and military collaboration, the truth revealed is completely the opposite. As a loyal client of U.S. imperialism in the region, Erdoğan and his ruling AKP have always been shameless partners with Israel in the crimes committed against the people of Palestine.
Let’s start with the recent massacre in Gaza. It has recently been revealed that the fuel used by the Israeli jets attacking Gaza comes from the Turkish ports of Mersin and Dörtyol. Despite the initial attempts by the AKP government officials to deny the claims, official data from the Turkish Statistics Institute documented that more than 120 tons of jet fuel were exported from Turkey to Israel in the month of March alone. It was also recently revealed that a tanker flying a Maltese flag carrying jet fuel made seven trips between the Turkish of Mersin and Israeli port Haifa between June 3 and July 9.
In terms of recent military exports, it is not just jet fuel that Turkey has been selling to Israel. When data from the Turkish Statistics Institute on exports from Turkey is analyzed, one can see that since 2010, Turkey has sold many other military items including pistols, land mines, bombs, torpedoes and different types of ammunition to the Israeli army, amounting to over $11 million. Note that these figures reflect only the military sales that went on after the raid on Mavi Marmara by Israeli special-forces killing eight Turkish citizens, which supposedly froze all the military trade between Israel and AKP. Until that incident, in addition to various agreements including joint military training, exercises and intelligence cooperation, AKP government had signed major military contracts with Israeli companies for the modernization of aging equipment in the Turkish armed forces, turning Turkey into a major export outlet for Israeli weapons manufacturers. Here are some highlights:
In 2002, a contract worth about $688 million was awarded to Israel Military Industries, an Israeli weapons manufacturer for the modernization of Turkish tanks. IMI was also awarded another contract amounting to $57 million for the modernization of the military helicopters in the Turkish Air Force.
In 2005, PM Erdoğan personally signed a deal amounting to $183 million to import Israeli drones (Herons) to Turkey. It is estimated that in 2007 alone, military equipment accounted for 69 percent of the $2.6 billion bilateral trade volume between Turkey and Israel.
Until 2008, in addition to U.S. and other NATO air forces, the Israeli air force was a regular participant in the joint exercises, “Anatolian Eagle,” held every year in Konya, Turkey. There is no doubt that these exercises gave the Israeli pilots the necessary field experience that would prove vital for their future bombing operations in Gaza.
In December 2012, using the so-called threat of a Syrian attack, AKP requested that NATO deploy Patriot missile batteries in southern Turkey. By early 2013, two German, two Dutch and two U.S. batteries were operational in southern Turkey. It is not a military secret that these batteries could also be used to protect Israel from any missile threat from Iran.
In addition to the military collaboration between Israel and Turkey, during the AKP years, the overall mutual trade between the two countries has thrived. The deep trade tiesbetween Turkey and Israel–existing thanks to a fair trade agreement that has eliminated all tariffs and non-tariff barriers in 1997 and all customs duties and charges for industrial products by 2000—got even better during AKP rule. By 2014, the trade volume between Turkey and Israel reached a record high level of over $5 billion from $3.8 billion in 2008, despite the so-called crisis between the two governments after the 2009 Gaza bombing and the Mavi Marmara raid. According to Ehud Cohen, head of the Foreign Trade Desk of the Israel Economy Ministry, chemical products make up to 70 percent of Israel’s recent exports to Turkey, while rubber products and electrical equipment account for another 15.5 percent.
One of the businesses that has profited from trade with Israel is owned by Ahmet Burak Erdoğan, Turkish PM Erdoğan’s own son. Burak Erdoğan’s shipping company, which operates cargo ships, has reportedly transferred goods between Turkey and Israel over the last three years.
A recent statement released by the Peace Association of Turkey after the start of the Israeli massacre in Gaza very clearly captures the hypocrisy of Erdoğan and his AKP government when it comes to Palestine.
“One of the most important allies of imperialism in the region, Erdoğan’s government cannot do anything more than issue empty ‘denunciations’ of Israel. They can’t do anything because Erdoğan and his government is responsible for every single drop of blood spilled in the Middle East. On their hands, they have the blood of everyone who has been murdered in Syria and Iraq for years. They can’t do anything but issue empty denunciations of Israel because the fuel that flies the Israeli jets raining bombs in Gaza come from Turkey!”
Make no mistake, Erdoğan and the AKP government are no friends of the people of Palestine. They are nothing but hypocrites who shamelessly exploit the struggle of the Palestinians, solidifying their own reactionary anti-Jewish base with fake anti-Zionist rhetoric while actually serving the interests of the U.S. imperialism by being a true ally to another imperialist puppet: Israel.
Who is a true friend of Palestine in the region? To answer that question, I will quote the legendary Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine revolutionary, Leila Khaled, who I was fortunate enough to listen to live in Turkey in 2013: “According to the last census, there are 11 million, 800 thousand Palestinians. But only a quarter of this population is living on Palestinian land. A huge population is exiled and the only country that has received that population with open arms is Syria. What was done to us is now being done to Syria.”