Israel’s defence minister accused Turkey on Sunday of destabilising the region and working against peacemaking efforts, and called for international pressure to bring about a change in the NATO power’s conduct.
Israel generally shies from public censure of Turkey, with which it maintains trade and diplomatic relations despite the pro-Palestinian stance of Ankara’s government for more than a decade.
Briefing Gulf Arab reporters as a follow-up to Israel’s founding of ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Defence Minister Benny Gantz described Turkey and Iran as “denying promotion of peace and supporting regional aggression”.
Iran – Israel’s chief enemy – and Turkey have criticised the U.S.-brokered Sept. 15 normalisation deal between Israel and the Gulf powers, seeing a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
Citing Turkey’s actions in northern Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as its Libya intervention and contacts with Palestinian Hamas militants, Gantz said: “All of this pushes away from stability”.
“Definitely the question of Turkey is a very complicated one, because Turkey is part of NATO,” Gantz told the Zoom conference, which was organised by The Arab Council for Regional Integration, a group that encourages Israeli-Arab outreach.
“So we must take all the options that we have in our hands and try to influence it through international pressure to make sure that they are pulling their hands from direct terrorism.”
The Palestinians have been dismayed by Israel’s diplomatic inroads in the Gulf, which side-step long-stalled talks on their statehood goal in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza.
Israel, like the United States, has argued that the deals with the UAE and Bahrain could usher in a Palestine deal too.
“We just want to make sure that we find the right balance between maintaining our security and enabling Palestinian sovereignty,” Gantz said.
In related news the head of Saudi Arabia’s Chambers of Commerce has called for a boycott of Turkish products amid merchants’ reports that animosity between Ankara and Riyadh is hindering the flow of goods between the two regional powers.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been at odds for some years over foreign policy and attitudes towards Islamist political groups. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi’s Istanbul consulate in 2018 escalated tensions sharply.
This year the two countries blocked some of each other’s news websites.
“A boycott of everything Turkish, be it imports, investment or tourism, is the responsibility of every Saudi ‘trader and consumer’, in response to the continued hostility of the Turkish government against our leadership, country and citizens,” businessman Ajlan al-Ajlan said on Twitter on Saturday.
The Saudi Chambers of Commerce is a non-government group of private sector business officials.
In response to a query from Reuters, Saudi Arabia’s government media office said the Gulf Arab state was committed to international trade and investment pacts and free trade.
“The official authorities in the Kingdom have not placed any restrictions on Turkish goods,” it said.
For more than a year, some Saudi and Turkish traders have speculated that Saudi Arabia was enforcing an informal boycott of imports from Turkey.
A Saudi importer told Reuters on condition of anonymity that containers he imported this year from Turkey lay with customs for three months before being released. He said customs officials informally advised him not to import directly from Turkey again.
Last week, Turkish opposition lawmaker Mehmet Güzelmansur said goods, particularly perishable fruit and vegetables, exported from his region of Hatay were held at the Saudi border for longer than necessary on arrival.
In comments reported in Turkish media and on his Twitter page, he said he was concerned that what he described as the partial, informal embargo by Saudi Arabia would be widened.
On Thursday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan took a swipe at the Gulf states in a speech to parliament.
“It should not be forgotten that the countries in question did not exist yesterday, and probably will not exist tomorrow,” Erdogan said. “But we will continue to fly our flag in this geography forever, with the permission of Allah.”
Neither Turkish nor Saudi trade data shows an unusually large drop in two-way trade this year, factoring in the strains on global commerce from the coronavirus pandemic.
In the second quarter, Turkey was Saudi Arabia’s 12th trade partner by total import value. The latest data shows Saudi imports from Turkey were worth about $185 million in July, up from roughly $180 million in June.