May 5, 2024 | Policy Brief

Turkey’s Suspension of Trade With Israel Cuts off Its Nose to Spite Its Face

May 5, 2024 | Policy Brief

Turkey’s Suspension of Trade With Israel Cuts off Its Nose to Spite Its Face

On May 2, 2024, the Turkish Ministry of Trade ordered a total and immediate suspension of trade with Israel. Ankara’s punitive move may set a dangerous precedent for other states to follow.

The Turkish communique stated that Turkey would suspend all “exports and imports to and from Israel … until the Israeli government allows an uninterrupted and sufficient flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.” Yet Ankara’s requests to send aid have been disguised efforts to undermine Israeli efforts in Gaza.

The full suspension of trade builds on a Turkish announcement, just four weeks prior, that Turkey would ban the export of 54 categories of products to Israel until Jerusalem declares a ceasefire in Gaza. Ankara said it enacted the ban after Israel rejected a request to allow Turkish aid airdrops over Gaza. For Israel, however, Turkey’s unwillingness — unlike Jordan — to allow U.S. Central Command’s coordination of assistance made Ankara’s participation a nonstarter. Erdogan then announced that Turkey would launch a flotilla to ship supplies directly to Hamas — a move that could have resulted in a direct altercation with the Israeli Navy. Following the trade suspension, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Turkey’s decision broke existing “trade agreements by blocking ports for Israeli imports and exports.”

Overt Turkish support for Hamas should no longer be a surprise. Since Hamas’s October 7, 2023, terror attacks on Israel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied that the group’s members are terrorists and instead refers to them as “mujahedeen” (freedom fighters). Only days after Congress approved a $23 billion deal to sell F-16 fighter jets and avionics upgrades to Ankara, Erdogan declared that “Turkey is a country that stands firmly behind Hamas.” He subsequently hosted senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul and offered to host the organization’s headquarters should Hamas desire to move from Qatar.

Erdogan may wish not only to become Hamas’s main champion but also to assume leadership of the rejectionist bloc of vocal anti-Israel states. It was in this context that, on May 1, 2024, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan announced that Turkey would join South Africa’s genocide complaint against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

Congress must take concrete measures to deter Turkey and to prevent other states from following its lead by expanding a hypocritical boycott that gives sustenance to terrorists. Already, several U.S. congressmen have demanded the U.S. Department of State move to prevent further Turkish efforts to inflame the Gaza conflict. Following Ankara’s boycott announcement, U.S. lawmakers began to inquire about the possibility of imposing sanctions against Turkey, to enforce U.S. anti-boycott laws.

Neither the Biden administration nor Congress should be passive in the face of Turkey’s challenge to Middle Eastern peace and the liberal world order. Instead, leaders from both parties should employ various tools to dissuade Erdogan from fueling the fire. To that end:

Congress could recommend applying Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against Erdogan’s associates for systemic corruption.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) could target Turkish banks under anti-money laundering authorities previously applied to Turkey’s sanctions evasion on behalf of Iran.

The Treasury could also impose sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) if Turkey operationalizes the S-400 air defense system it purchased from Russia.

The U.S. Department of State could also stall cooperation on energy projects that Erdogan values.

Lastly, the Biden administration could delay delivery of the 70 F-16 fighters and modernization kits until Ankara changes its behavior.

    Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Tyler Stapleton is director of congressional relations at FDD Action. They both contribute to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP) and Center on Political and Military Power (CMPP). Follow them on X @SinanCiddi and @Ty_D_Stapleton. Follow FDD on X @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy. FDD Action is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(4) organization related to FDD, established to advocate for effective policies to promote U.S. national security and defend free nations.

    Issues:

    Israel Turkey