HAIFA, Israel — Under Ottoman and British rule, the port city of Haifa, nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Carmel, was a major gateway to the Near East, a multiethnic entrepôt where merchants met and goods flowed to and from Damascus, Baghdad and beyond. The creation of Israel in 1948 and the consequent conflict with the Arab world, however, severed Haifa from much of its economic hinterland. Today another war is helping it regain some of its lost commercial importance and perhaps in the process changing the geopolitical calculus of the region.
On May 27, a convoy of 30 trucks carrying fresh fruits and vegetables from the Turkish city of Iskenderun rolled off the 7,084-ton Kibris Yildiz anchored in Haifa and formed a line on one of the docks. The Turkish drivers lazed about in the sun for hours, chatting, smoking and occasionally facing Mecca to pray while waiting for the signal to move. When word finally came, the men jumped in their 12-wheelers and drove, in groups of 10, some 50 miles through the fertile Jezreel Valley to the border with Jordan, their final destination. The convoys were part of a new trade route that opened seven months ago to circumvent the war in nearby Syria.