Iraq and Israel do not enjoy diplomatic relations but the port of Haifa has been serving as a conduit between Iraq and Europe, a spokesman for Haifa mayor Yona Yahav confirmed to The Times of Israel.

The Israeli port has been secretly facilitating import and export to and from Iraq for a long time, Yahav had told the Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera recently. Trucks from Jordan carrying Iraqi merchandise arrive overland at the Haifa port and unload it onto ships that travel to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Iraq and has never publicly  admitted trade with it. However, a WikiLeaks document published in October 2010 revealed a conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Senator Benjamin Cardin dating to February 2009 in which Netanyahu spoke of “strong but unpublicized trade between Haifa port and Iraq via Jordan.”

Haifa mayor Yona Yahav, July 2009 (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash 90)

Haifa mayor Yona Yahav, July 2009 (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash 90)

Yahav said that the Israeli government is attempting to develop Haifa as a trade link between east and the west, investing NIS 300 million ($70.6 US) in a train line between Haifa and the city of Beit She’an, on the border with Jordan. The line, known as the valley train, is 60 kilometers (37 miles) long and will be completed by early 2016, Israel’s Transportation Ministry says.

Yahav was reluctant to add information to what was reported by Al-Jazeera, but a spokesman for the Israeli Transportation Ministry told the Times of Israel that plans to connect the valley train to Jordan are “in their preliminary stages.”

The idea of connecting Iraq with the port of Haifa was first proposed by British Consul to Haifa Thomas B. Sandwit in the 1860s, hoping to cement Haifa as a trade outlet from British-controlled India. The Jezreel Valley railway eventually went only as far as Damascus, Syria.

Trade expert Matanis Shahadeh told Al-Jazeera that from Iraq’s point of view, the Iraq-Haifa route is much more direct and cost-efficient than the alternative maritime route through the Persian Gulf. Political instability may jeopardize trade through the Iran-dominated Persian Gulf and through Egypt’s Suez Canal, making the land route via Israel more viable, Shahadeh said.

In September 2010 Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz authorized the export of used cars to Jordan and Iraq in an attempt to encourage Israelis to purchase newer and safer automobiles.

No comment from the Iraqi and Israeli ministries of trade was available at time of publication.