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Why is Turkey securing trade with Israel as Erdogan cheers on Hamas?

The Turkish president may be the loudest leader speaking up for the Palestinians, but he has paid no heed to calls for sanctions that could really bite Israel.
Turkish football supporters hold banners reading "There is a genocide in Gaza" and "Children killer Israel" during a demonstration to demand a stop to the bombings in Gaza in front of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, on November 18, 2023 amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by YASIN AKGUL / AFP) (Photo by YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images)
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With his defense of Hamas on one side and Turkish-Israeli trade on the other, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hopscotching between two fires, unable to please either his Western partners or the grassroots of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

Under the AKP’s two-decade rule, Ankara’s pro-Palestinian discourse has grown louder, compounded with Islamist rhetoric, but Turkey’s commercial ties with Israel have also grown. Their bilateral trade was worth $8.9 billion in 2022, up from $1.4 billion in 2002. Last year, Israel was the 10th largest buyer of Turkish goods and the 29th-largest source of Turkey’s imports.

The Gaza crisis hit at a time when Erdogan was hoping to make further progress in recently normalized ties with Israel, which seems to have added to his anger. This is reminiscent of his memorable outburst against Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos in 2009, after another war in Gaza sent Turkish mediation efforts between Israel and Syria down the drain. 

The current war broke soon after Turkey restored full diplomatic ties with Israel in the hope of clinching a central role in the energy equation in the eastern Mediterranean. Following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in September, Erdogan had said Netanyahu would visit Turkey in October or November, with energy high on the bilateral agenda, including shared drilling operations in the eastern Mediterranean and carrying Israeli gas to Europe via Turkey. The plans have been shelved for now. 

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