In the Ties Between Turkey and Israel Geo-Economics Should Trump Geo-Politics

By Arshad Mehmood | The Media Line

December 24, 2015

The Tamar drilling natural gas production platform is seen some 25 kilometers west of the Ashqelon shore in February 2013 in Israel. (Photo by Albatross via Getty Images)

In the hour of need, during the Russian-Turkish diplomatic confrontation over the downed Russian Su-24 jet, Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his willingness to sell natural gas to Turkey. Turkey is going to experience a crunch in energy as a result of escalating anti-Turkish sanctions imposed by Russia since the incident, when two Turkish F-15s downed the Russian SU-24 jet which entered  Turkish airspace for about 15 seconds on November 24. Turkey imports 60 percent of its natural gas from Russia and Moscow, undoubtedly, is going to use an “energy” weapon to pressure Turkey, like it did in in 1996 and 1999 against Ukraine.

And here geo-economics enters the picture. Geo-economics may be defined in two different ways: as the relationship between economic policy and changes in national power and geopolitics (in other words, the geopolitical consequences of economic phenomena); or as the economic consequences of trends in geopolitics and national power. Both the notion that ‘trade follows the flag’ (that the projection of national power has economic consequences) and that ‘the flag follows trade’ (that there are geopolitical consequences of essentially economic phenomena) point to the subject matter of geo-economics.

Israel’s government has reiterated that it is exploring a possibility of exporting gas to Turkey. Israel is considering the export and building a pipeline for transit of gas to Turkey, in spite of political and personal differences between Turkey and Israel’s leaders. Israel has achieved energy self-sufficiency for decades to come and possesses significant resources for natural gas exports as the result of discoveries of the already operating Tamar gas field and another larger Leviathan field in the eastern Mediterranean. Leviathan field gas is viewed by the government as the main Israeli source for gas exports. Since 2013, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials in conjunction with Israel’s Delek group have been discussing a gas pipeline project with the Turkish pipeline builder. Estimated to cost only around $2 billion, it would the cheapest way to export Israeli gas to Europe via Turkish territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed interest in supplying natural gas to Jordan, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus. Israeli media quoted the head of government: “At the moment, [we are conducting] consultations on the issue of gas exports to Turkey and transit supplies through Turkey, which could change the relationship between our countries.”

Israel and Turkey in the past were strategic partners, but moved away from each other against the backdrop of the reorientation of Turkish foreign policy from European integration on the strengthening of Turkey’s position in the Arab-Muslim world. The mutual alienation reached its peak after the Mavi Marmara incident, when the Peace Flotilla sailing to break the blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip was intercepted by Israeli commandos in May of 2010 and resulted in the death of nine Turkish participants.

This pattern of an almost non-existent political dialogue at the senior levels accompanied by robust bilateral trade has characterized the Turkish-Israeli relationship since 2011. Short of unexpected dramatic changes, the relations between the two former allies will likely continue in this pattern for the foreseeable future. And yet, the latest statistics released this week by the Israeli government document an overall volume of $5.44 billion dollars in Turkish-Israeli trade during 2014. This marks an all-time high point in Turkish-Israeli economic relations, up 11.5 percent from 2013, including $2.75 billion in Israeli exports to Turkey (a 10 percent year-to-year increase) and $2.68 billion in Turkish imports to Israel (13 percent higher than 2013).

Earlier it was reported that the Turkish side is actively seeking to purchase Israeli gas and insists that Israel should expedite consideration of Ankara’s bid. According to the Israeli First channel ITV on the evening of December 11, Benjamin Netanyahu sent his personal emissary Joseph Joseph Ciechanover to conduct talks with a representative of the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan shortly.

The meeting is devoted to negotiating the purchase of Israeli natural gas. Against the background of an acute crisis of Russian-Turkish relations, Ankara is actively looking for new energy suppliers. One of them should be Qatar, which already agreed to sell liquid natural gas (LNG) to Turkey.

What is at stake here, is not only an economic transaction beneficial to both sides, but also a political component, namely a drastic improvement in political and diplomatic ties. However, as reported by Israeli sources, Erdogan continued to insist on terms unrealistic from the standpoint of Israel. In particular, the Turkish president insists on the complete abolition of the regime of isolation of the Gaza Strip, which monitors the terrorist organization Hamas. If Erdogan will raise the political conditions for the signing of the trade deal, it will likely not take place.

But it is a high time to reach a point in Turkish-Israeli relations, where ‘the flag follows trade.’

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