Among its many other insidious effects, the coronavirus crisis is complicating various aspects of Israeli foreign relations.
Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the Israeli economy was in excellent shape, with good GNP and export growth, low unemployment, low inflation, and healthy agricultural, industrial and hi-tech sectors. The energy situation had improved greatly with the development of the off-shore gas fields, which not only strengthened domestic energy independence but also served as the basis for forging agreements with several regional countries.
Corona has changed much of that rosy situation: Unemployment has soared, deficits have grown exponentially, and sectors such as commerce and tourism have been decimated. All this has been accompanied on the regional scene by a dangerous increase in Turkish aggression, which has reached such dimensions that Turkey is arguably now a greater threat to Middle Eastern peace and stability than Iran.
Turkish imperialism has affected the entire region, from Libya to Iraq and Qatar, where Turkish troops are stationed to protect the regime. Threatening actions have been taken against Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus, and both Syria and Iraq have suffered military ground and air incursions from Turkey.
All this is well known. What has not been commented upon is the conundrum in which the Turkish diplomatic, propaganda, and military offensive has placed Israel, reeling from the economic effects of the pandemic and the economic decline stemming from it.
The Turkish regime of President Erdogan is openly antisemitic, but despite that and all the above-listed aggressions, official Israeli reaction has been muted to the point of being inaudible. Why? The answer is very simple: exports to Turkey are still an important element in Israel’s international trade, and, with the collapse of the economy in general, are one of the few positive elements.
Turkey is also involved in the current fighting between Azerbaijan and the Armenian breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). Again, a conundrum. Public sympathy is clearly on the side of the Armenians, who are undoubtedly the people whose history most closely resembles that of the Jews over the past many centuries, and who suffered a genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915, cited by Hitler as foreshadowing his own holocaust against the Jews and others in the 1930s and 40s. Yet Jerusalem is silent. Why? Again, very simple: Israeli commerce with Azerbaijan is flourishing, with the added factor that much of Israeli exports to Azerbaijan consists of military equipment, which Israel is refusing to cut off, causing Armenia to withdraw its ambassador.
Turkey is beyond doubt a geopolitical threat to Israel and several of its allies. It is also grossly antisemitic, as mentioned. But it is commercially important. Most Israelis would love to support the Armenians in their conflict with Azerbaijan. If the Israeli economy were flourishing, as it was as recently as seven months ago, the policy choices would still be difficult, but there can be little doubt that Turkey would finally be confronted concerning its regional behavior, particularly because it is also directed at Israel’s new Gulf friends. There is little doubt also, that arms sales to Azerbaijan would have been suspended.
Of the two conundra, that of Turkey is the more important. Israel needs to face up to the Turkish threat, trade or no trade. The Turkish market will be replaced, at least to some extent, by new markets in the Gulf. The threat is simply too great. Trade used to be flourishing with Iran, also, prior to the takeover by the Islamic regime. It was missed, but it was replaced, and now Israel can enthusiastically support economic/financial sanctions against the government in Tehran.
But of course, to correctly analyze any international situation and then to correctly choose a course of action would require a functioning government in Jerusalem. Swiftly, and in our days.
Dr. Norman Bailey is professor of Economic Statecraft at the Galilee International Management Institute, and adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. Dr. Bailey was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration and of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on October 12, 2020