A diplomatic reshuffle was seen in the Middle East region recently when Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to normalize their relations in a deal brokered by US President Donald Trump. Israel and UAE have reached a historic deal that will lead to the normalisation of bilateral relations.
The agreement, also known as “Abraham Accord”, stated that Israel would suspend its plans to annex Palestinian areas of the occupied West Bank. The UAE is the first Gulf Arab and the third Arab nation to reach such a deal with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Bahrain and Oman are also expected to be the next states to establish official ties with Israel.
According to a joint statement, Israel and the UAE will exchange embassies and ambassadors, and they plan to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment and other areas of mutual benefit. The relations between both states started normalizing when Israeli Culture and Sports Minister, Miri Regev, became the first Israeli to visit UAE, in October 2018. Behind that, UAE had undercover relation with the Jewish state. Later on, Israeli Foreign Minister, as well as Communications Minister, also travelled to UAE.
The Palestinian Authority and pro-Palestinian states condemned the action stating that was a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. One of the interesting things that were seen after this agreement was the reaction of Turkey. Ankara called UAE’s decision “hypocritical behavior”. According to the Turkish Foreign Minister, “History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behaviour of the UAE, betraying the Palestinian cause for the sake of its narrow interests.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to suspend diplomatic ties with UAE. Erdogan’s statement was the offensive response to the Israel-UAE deal.
Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognise Israel in 1949. Turkey opposes the UAE’s deal with Israel, but Turkey already has diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. The first diplomatic mission by Turkey to Israel was launched in January 1950. In 1958, both Prime Ministers had a secret meeting in which they discussed future cooperation. Later on, they faced, ups and down in their relations due to the regional conflicts such as the Arab war and the Palestinian cause.
In 1992, both states re-established relations. To improve ties, Israel established two diplomatic missions in Turkey, an embassy in the capital Ankara and a consulate in Istanbul. Turkey also has an embassy in Tel Aviv. When Erdogan became Prime Minister in 2002, a new era of relations started. Turkish Prime Minister visited Israel in 2005 in which he called on the Israeli government to “work together” for peace in the Middle East.
Turkey and Israel also signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in which tariffs and non-tariff barriers were eliminated. According to the 2018 figures, Turkey is the major trading partner country of Israel. Turkey’s export products to Israel include textiles, iron, chemicals and oil distillates, steel, land, sea and air vehicles, along with ceramic and glass products. Turkey also purchases high-tech defence equipment, whereas it supplies Israel with military boots and uniforms. Turkish Airlines is the most frequent airline to fly to Israel.
According to data from the Ministry of Commerce, Turkey’s foreign trade volume with Israel has stood at around $5 million – $6 million since 2013, reaching $6.6 million in 2019, with $4.4 million in exports and $1.6 million in imports. In January 2020, foreign trade with the country further increased. Turkey considers Israel’s the sixth-largest exporter. According to the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, Israeli exports to Turkey in 2020 rose 39% to $950 million, and imports from Turkey rose 16% to $1.05 billion.
There is no doubt that UAE’s decision regarding the normalization of ties with Israel had an impact on the Palestinian cause, but due to regional threats, UAE had to take that initiative. In Middle East politics, Turkey and Iran have great impact in regional conflict, therefore, to counter them, the Gulf States have to take that step for their survival.
On the other hand, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, known as the so-called leader of the Islamic world, leads with his words and speeches rather than his actions, which shows his hypocritical behaviour. Before threatening and suspending diplomatic ties with UAE, Turkey must go for the suspension of trade and diplomacy with the Jewish state so that their actions can speak louder than their words.