Opening trade war, Turkey imposes restrictions on Israel until Gaza ceasefire

Ankara’s trade ministry lists 54 items that will not be exported to Israel, which says it will draw up its own ‘extensive’ inventory of Turkish products it will ban

Supporters of Palestinians in Gaza protest in Istanbul, Turkey, April 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Supporters of Palestinians in Gaza protest in Istanbul, Turkey, April 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Turkey will impose trade restrictions on Israel starting Tuesday on a range of products including cement and steel and iron construction materials in response to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, the trade ministry said in a statement.

Israel responded by saying it would form an “extensive” list of Turkish items to be banned from import and lobby in Washington and around the world for other countries to punish Turkey over its move.

“This decision will remain in place until Israel declares a ceasefire immediately and allows adequate and uninterrupted flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza,” the Turkish trade ministry announced on social media.

The ministry issued a list of 54 products subject to the export restrictions.

In a statement following Ankara’s announcement that it would be taking measures after Israel rejected its request to take part in an aid airdrop for Gaza, the ministry said the restrictions would include iron and steel products, construction equipment and products, machines, and more.

The war erupted on October 7 when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people amid wholesale atrocities. The thousands of terrorists who burst through the Gaza border into southern Israel also abducted 253 people and took them as hostages into the Strip.

Israel responded with a military offensive to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group, and free the hostages, of whom 129 remain in captivity, not all of them still alive. Hamas claims 33,000 Gazans have been killed, an unverifiable figure that includes civilians and gunmen; Israel says it has killed 13,000 gunmen in the Strip.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint press conference with Ukrainian President at the Dolmabahce Presidental office in Istanbul on March 8, 2024. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

Turkey has been one of the harshest critics of Israel during the Gaza war, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Erdogan branding Israel a “terrorist state.”

Responding to the developments, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz ordered the Economic Division of his ministry “to prepare an extensive list of products that Israel will prevent Turkey from exporting to Israel,” his office said in a statement.

“Turkey is unilaterally violating the trade agreements with Israel, and Israel will take all necessary measures against it,” the statement said.

In addition, Israel will “appeal to pro-Israel countries and organizations in the US to stop investments in Turkey and prevent the import of products from Turkey.”

Israel will also ask “its friends in the American Congress to examine Turkish violation of the boycott laws against Israel and impose sanctions accordingly,” the statement said.

“Erdogan is once again sacrificing the economic interests of the people of Turkey for his support of the Hamas murderers in Gaza who raped, murdered, and desecrated the bodies of women, girls, adults, and burned children alive,” Katz said. “Israel will not submit to violence and blackmail and will not complain about the unilateral violation of the trade agreements and will take parallel measures against Turkey that will harm the Turkish economy.”

Turkey’s exports to Israel stood at $5.43 billion last year, down from $7.03 billion in 2022, according to the Turkish Exporters’ Union and statistics agency Turkstat.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, right, speaks during his meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, at the State Department in Washington, March 8, 2024. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Monday vowed reprisals against Israel over the airdrop incident, saying they would be implemented “step by step” and “without delay.”

The export measures were approved by Erdogan, he added.

Israel officials are concerned the announced restrictions could be extended to stopping flights over Turkish airspace or regional oil activities, the Ynet news outlet said in an unsourced report.

Israel Hayom reported that the clothing and electrical goods industries in Israel are most likely to take the biggest hit from the restrictions as many fashion outlets source items from Turkey.

There are also household items manufactured in Turkey that could be affected including Pampers diapers, which are owned by Procter & Gamble and are brought to Israel by the Diplomat brand.

Also, Unilever manufactures some of its Dove line of soaps and shampoos in Turkey. Food giant Willi-Food imports some of its products from Turkey as well, the report said.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 16, 2024. (Boaz Arad/Facebook)

Erdogan’s salvos against Israel include allegations it is committing “genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza. He has defended Hamas — considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union — as “a liberation group.”

The Turkish leader also repeatedly attacked Israel on the campaign trail ahead of local elections held on March 31.

His party nevertheless suffered a significant defeat, losing control of many cities, especially to the Islam-based Yeniden Refah (New Welfare) Party.

The party, which won seats in the Turkish parliament last year after allying with Erdogan’s AKP, fielded its own candidates in the March elections, with its leader Fatih Erbakan attacking Erdogan for maintaining Turkish trade with Israel despite the war in Gaza.

“The result of this election was decided by the behavior of those who continued to trade freely with Israel and the Zionist murderers,” Erbakan said on election night.

Turkey and Israel normalized ties in 2022 by reappointing ambassadors after years of tensions, but relations have again become strained due to the war.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid make their way along a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 10, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Last month, Foreign Minister Katz instructed his ministry to summon the Turkish envoy for a “serious reprimand” after Erdogan vowed to “send [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] to Allah.”

The deputy ambassador was summoned, as Turkey had withdrawn its ambassador at the start of the war.

The fighting has brought on a humanitarian crisis that the United Nations and aid agencies say is taking Gaza to the brink of famine.

Turkey has sent tens of thousands of tons of humanitarian aid there since the start of the fighting.

Most aid has long been trucked into Gaza via border crossings from Israel or Egypt, which also shares a boundary with the Palestinian enclave. However, those deliveries have been disrupted by the war.

Humanitarian aid is airdropped to Palestinians over Gaza City, Gaza Strip, March 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Essa)

Some countries, including the US, Britain, and Jordan, have taken to delivering aid via airdrops, though the volumes arriving are considered too small for the 2.4 million people living in Gaza. Airdrops have also run into difficulties leading to deaths on the ground or drownings as desperate Gazans tried to retrieve parcels that fell into the sea.

As an alternative, aid is being shipped to Gaza by sea and landed at temporary jetties though that method has also faced challenges. Last week seven aid workers were killed in an erroneous Israeli airstrike and a ship waiting to be unloaded then turned away and sailed back to Cyprus.

Israel over the weekend said it had managed to increase the flow of aid trucks entering Gaza.

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