Economic Sanctions as a Weapon: Turkey’s Trade Restrictions on Israel Amid Gaza Conflict


On April 9, 2024, the Turkish government initiated a series of trade restrictions against Israel, marking a significant escalation in the geopolitical tensions between the two nations. This decision was made in the wake of the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, which has seen severe humanitarian repercussions. The primary aim of these sanctions, as stated by the Turkish authorities, was to penalize Israel for its military actions in Gaza, which Turkey views as disproportionate and unjust.

The Context of Turkish Domestic Politics

The context of Turkish domestic politics in 2024 is significantly shaped by a combination of economic difficulties and shifting political landscapes, which are crucial to understanding Turkey’s decision to impose trade sanctions on Israel.

Image : Turkey Inflation Rate

The inflation rate in Turkey for March 2024 was 68.50%, slightly higher than the previous month’s 67.07% but lower than the expected 69.10%. This marked the highest inflation rate since November 2022. Prices rose across various categories:

  • Transport saw a rise to 79.92% from 77.98% in February.
  • Housing and utilities increased to 51.17% from 49.07%.
  • Furnishings, household equipment, and routine maintenance went up to 63.72% from 62.92%.
  • Clothing and footwear increased to 50.10% from 43.44%.
  • Hotels, cafes, and restaurants also saw an increase to 94.97% from 94.78%.

However, food inflation decreased slightly to 70.41% from the previous period’s 71.12%. Core inflation increased to 75.21% from 72.89% earlier.

On a monthly basis, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew by 3.16%, a slowdown from the 4.53% increase in February. This was mainly due to fewer salary adjustments and price rises compared to earlier in the year. Source: Turkish Statistical Institute.

Economic Situation: Turkey has been grappling with severe economic challenges, including an inflation rate that peaked at 83.45% in 2023, the highest in 24 years. This economic downturn has been characterized by poor infrastructure investments, an inefficient education system, and low public confidence in the future, exacerbating the inflationary spiral. The economic distress has led to a significant youth exodus, with many seeking opportunities abroad due to the bleak economic outlook​ .

Political Dynamics: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has faced mounting political challenges. In the local elections of 2024, the AKP failed to secure key mayoral positions in Istanbul and Ankara, which were won by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). This marked a significant shift in public mood and indicated potential challenges to Erdoğan’s longstanding dominance in Turkish politics​.

Despite economic reforms initiated by Erdoğan, including rehiring competent technocrats to stabilize the economy, the political and economic strategies have not fully alleviated the public’s concerns. This economic hardship, coupled with the dissatisfaction with Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies, has influenced public sentiment significantly​.

Furthermore, the AKP’s handling of foreign and domestic policies has been perceived as erratic by many in the international community, contributing to strained relationships with Western allies. The intensification of Islamic politics and crackdowns on dissent have led to Turkey being seen as a “competitive authoritarian” regime, where the fairness of elections and political competition is highly questionable​ .

In summary, the backdrop of Turkey’s decision to impose trade sanctions on Israel is deeply rooted in its internal political and economic crises. The public support for these sanctions, especially among conservative segments, can be seen as a response to these crises, influenced by recent political shifts and ongoing economic hardships. These factors provide a comprehensive understanding of the motives and potential impacts of Turkey’s actions on the domestic and international stage.

Media Influence and Public Perception

The Turkish media’s portrayal of the Israel-Hamas conflict has been heavily influenced by governmental stance and ideological leanings, shaping public perception in significant ways. This coverage often presents Hamas as a defensive force and minimizes the visibility of atrocities initiated by Hamas, contrasting sharply with Western media narratives which frequently depict Israel in a more favorable light.

According to analysis, Turkish media has been found to align with President Erdoğan’s views on the conflict, which support Hamas and reflect a broader ideological stance that is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. This is evident in the public and political rhetoric that often accuses Israel of aggressive actions while emphasizing Palestinian suffering. Such coverage can exacerbate tensions with Western perspectives and has implications for Turkey’s international relations, especially with countries like the United States and Israel.

Furthermore, misinformation and disinformation play a substantial role in the digital landscape, complicating the public’s understanding of the conflict. The spread of false information through social media and other digital platforms can skew perceptions and fuel emotional reactions, often aligning with pre-existing biases. This has been seen in various instances where misrepresented or exaggerated reports have influenced public sentiment and international viewpoints​​.

Internationally, the discrepancy in media coverage also reflects broader geopolitical biases and narratives. Western media, for instance, may emphasize certain aspects of the conflict such as Israeli casualties or alleged war crimes by Hamas, while downplaying or scrutinizing Palestinian casualties and their sources. This selective coverage can lead to accusations of double standards and contribute to a polarized view of the conflict across different regions​.

The interplay between media portrayal, public perception, and geopolitical agendas underscores the complexity of the Israel-Hamas conflict in the international media landscape, revealing how deeply entwined media narratives are with political interests and ideological battles.

Economic Impacts of the Sanctions

The economic impact of Turkish sanctions against Israel, particularly in the context of the ongoing conflict, has various dimensions but is not likely to be catastrophic for either nation’s economy. Turkey’s decision to halt the export of 54 products to Israel, including key materials like steel and cement, is part of a broader geopolitical response rather than purely economic measures. This comes against the backdrop of a bilateral trade that was valued at $5.4 billion in 2023, accounting for about 2.1% of Turkey’s total exports​​.

While the sanctions focus on a specific set of products, the overall trade relationship between the two countries has been robust and growing over the years, despite political tensions. Turkey has traditionally enjoyed a trade surplus with Israel, with significant exports in sectors like steel and automotive products, which have helped balance Turkey’s external trade positions. Before the conflict escalated, Turkey was the fifth-largest supplier of imported goods to Israel, indicating a strong economic linkage that has been built over decades​ .

The current trade restrictions are influenced heavily by political and ideological considerations, reflecting Turkey’s stance on the conflict in Gaza and its broader foreign policy objectives. This is evidenced by the complex interplay of supporting Hamas ideologically while maintaining substantial economic ties with Israel, a duality that highlights the pragmatic aspects of Turkey’s foreign policy under President Erdogan’s leadership​​.

Moreover, these sanctions could potentially lead to higher prices for certain goods in Israel, particularly in the construction sector, which relies significantly on imports like Turkish cement. On the Turkish side, while there might be short-term impacts on exporters, the overall economic effect is cushioned by Turkey’s diversified trade portfolio and its ability to find alternative markets​​.

Overall, while the sanctions are a clear signal of Turkey’s political positioning, their direct economic impact may be buffered by the existing depth and breadth of the trade relationships and the economic resilience of both nations.

Divergent Views Within Turkey

The political landscape within Turkey regarding the Israel-Gaza conflict exhibits significant divergence, particularly among the major political parties. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, representing the Justice and Development Party (AKP), has historically aligned Turkish foreign policy strongly with Palestinian causes, viewing support for Hamas as a continuation of Turkey’s ideological and geopolitical strategies. This stance has sometimes led to tensions in Turkey’s international relations, especially with Israel and its Western allies​​.

In contrast, Özgur Özel, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has voiced opposition to the government’s policy, especially criticizing the continuation of trade with Israel amid the ongoing conflict. He argues that this undermines Turkey’s proclaimed solidarity with Palestine. His leadership marks a distinct shift within the CHP, aiming to redefine its approach and rectify past electoral setback​.

Additionally, Meral Aksener of the Good Party (IYI) has criticized both sides in the conflict, reflecting a more nuanced perspective that recognizes the complexities and condemns the extremities of the situation. This stance indicates a call for a more balanced discussion within Turkey about the conflict, highlighting the need for a policy that does not merely polarize but understands the intricacies involved​ ​.

Overall, these divergent views within Turkey illustrate the internal debates and political maneuvering surrounding its foreign policy towards the Israel-Gaza conflict. This division is indicative of a broader discourse that questions the balance between ideological commitments and pragmatic international relations.

The Role of Public Opinion and Protests

Public opinion in Turkey remains sharply divided, with a significant faction advocating for a complete cessation of trade with Israel, aligning with more extreme measures proposed by figures like Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of the pro-Kurdish People’s Equality and Democracy Party (DEM). Street protests and public demonstrations have become a common sight in Istanbul and other cities, indicating the deep emotional and political investment of the Turkish public in the Gaza conflict.

The imposition of trade restrictions by Turkey against Israel marks a critical juncture in the bilateral relations between the two countries, reflecting broader regional dynamics and the complex interplay of domestic politics, economic considerations, and international diplomacy. As this situation evolves, it will be essential to monitor the impacts of these sanctions on the political stability in Turkey, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and the broader geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

A Paradigm Shift in Middle-Eastern Diplomacy: Unpacking the Political Motivations Behind Turkey’s Sanctions on Israel

The imposition of sanctions by Turkey on Israel in 2023 represents a pivotal moment in Middle-Eastern politics, mirroring a complex interplay of domestic drives and international pressures. This development signifies not just a transformation in Turkey-Israel relations but also a broader realignment in regional and global diplomatic ties. This article delves into the intricate political motivations that fueled Turkey’s decision, examines the influence of international actors in this saga, and discusses the ripple effects across the global political landscape.

Overview of the Sanctions

Turkey’s decision to implement a set of economic and diplomatic sanctions against Israel was announced in 2023, marking a notable departure from the previously thawing relations between the two nations. The sanctions encompass a variety of measures including significant trade restrictions, the suspension of key bilateral agreements, and a robust push for the international community to censure Israel for its actions, particularly concerning the Palestinian territories. This suite of sanctions has not only disrupted the bilateral relationship but has also sent ripples through international diplomatic channels.

Political Motivations

Domestic Political Considerations

Nationalist Appeals: The Turkish government leveraged these sanctions as a tool to resonate with its nationalist and conservative constituents. These segments of the population generally favor a staunch stance against what they perceive as Israel’s injustices, especially regarding the Palestinian issue. The sanctions serve as a rallying cry, potentially solidifying governmental support amid fluctuating domestic approval ratings.

Government Stability: Internally, Turkey faces a plethora of economic challenges, including inflation and unemployment. By redirecting the public focus towards international affairs, the government aims to consolidate its stability and fortify its domestic standing. This strategic diversion is seen as a maneuver to galvanize support and distract from pressing economic issues.

Regional Influence

Leadership in the Muslim World: By opposing Israel’s policies, Turkey is asserting its influence and leadership within the Muslim world. This move is aligned with Turkey’s broader ambitions to mold the political narratives in Muslim-majority countries and elevate its stature on the regional stage.

International Actors and Behind-the-Scenes Influences

Role of Allies

Qatar-Turkey Strategic Alliance

The strategic alliance between Qatar and Turkey has deepened significantly over the years, particularly in response to regional dynamics and shared political objectives. The relationship encompasses extensive military cooperation, economic partnerships, and aligned positions on regional issues, particularly with respect to the Palestinian cause.

Military and Defense Cooperation

Turkey’s military presence in Qatar, including the establishment of military bases, is a cornerstone of the bilateral relationship. These bases not only facilitate joint military exercises and training but also play a crucial role in enhancing Qatar’s defense capabilities. This military cooperation was notably intensified during the Gulf crisis in 2017, when Turkey swiftly deployed additional troops to Qatar, underscoring its commitment to Qatar’s security​​.

Economic Ties and Investments

Economically, the ties between the two countries have grown robustly. Qatar is one of the major investors in Turkey, with investments totaling around $22 billion as of 2022. This includes significant Qatari stakes in various Turkish industries and real estate. The trade volume between the two countries also saw a substantial increase, reflecting their deepening economic interdependence​​.

In times of crisis, Qatar has provided substantial financial support to Turkey, exemplified by the $15 billion aid package during Turkey’s 2018 economic challenges. This economic interplay extends beyond mere investment, with both countries seeking to leverage each other’s geographic and economic strengths to bolster their own domestic economies and regional influence​​.

Support for Palestine

Both countries have consistently shown support for Palestine, a stance that aligns them against certain other regional actors. This shared perspective not only influences their diplomatic engagements but also affects their strategic decisions on the international stage​​.

Russia-Turkey Relations in the Context of Sanctions

Russia’s relationship with Turkey is complex and multifaceted, influenced by both cooperation and competition in regional politics. While Turkey’s move to impose sanctions on Israel could be seen as an opportunity for Russia to reduce Western influence in the Middle East, the broader context of Russo-Turkish relations includes significant contention points, such as their opposing stances in the Syrian conflict.

Energy and Defense

Despite occasional tensions, Turkey and Russia have engaged in substantial cooperation in areas like energy. Russia remains a crucial energy supplier to Turkey, which underscores the pragmatic aspects of their relationship despite geopolitical rivalries. Moreover, the defense sector sees both cooperation and competition, notably in Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which has been a point of contention with Western nations​.

Geopolitical Dynamics

The involvement of both countries in Syria illustrates the complexity of their relationship. While they collaborate on certain aspects, such as negotiating ceasefires, they support opposing sides in the conflict, reflecting a broader struggle for influence in the Middle East​ ​.

In summary, the strategic dynamics involving Qatar, Turkey, and Russia are shaped by a combination of mutual interests, regional conflicts, and global geopolitical shifts. These relationships are crucial not only for the countries involved but also for the broader stability and political alignments in the Middle East.

International Reactions

The international reactions to Turkey’s sanctions on Israel are multifaceted, reflecting the complex geopolitical landscape of the Middle East and the differing priorities of global powers.

United States and European Union: Both the United States and the EU have expressed concerns regarding the potential disruptive effects of Turkey’s sanctions on regional stability and the ongoing peace processes. The U.S. and EU’s responses have been cautious yet clear, emphasizing the importance of continued diplomatic efforts to address the situation. During the U.S.-EU Summit, they reaffirmed their commitment to peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, indirectly addressing the tensions arising from such sanctions​ ​.

European Union Internal Dynamics: Within the EU, there is some resistance to adopting a harsher stance towards Turkey, primarily due to the complex considerations surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader regional implications. Some EU member states, such as Portugal, have voiced that imposing additional sanctions might serve as a diversion from more significant issues like Palestinian statehood, suggesting a preference for a diplomatic and long-term solution to the conflict rather than punitive measures​ )​.

Arab League: The Arab League’s response has been mixed, mirroring the diverse political landscapes of its member states. Some members have shown tacit support for Turkey’s stance, aligning with Turkey’s pro-Palestinian position, while others, particularly those who have recently normalized relations with Israel, have voiced concerns about the escalation of regional tensions. This split reflects the varying priorities and strategic interests within the league, with each member weighing the benefits of solidarity with Turkey against the risks of further regional destabilization.

These responses highlight the delicate balance of international relations in the Middle East, where diplomatic actions are heavily influenced by broader strategic objectives and the ever-present need to maintain regional and global stability.

Broader Implications on the International Scene

The imposition of sanctions by Turkey on Israel could potentially reshape alliances and impact global diplomacy in several significant ways. The shifting nature of global alliances, particularly in the context of a multipolar world, suggests that Turkey’s actions might prompt other nations to reassess their diplomatic strategies, especially within international bodies like the United Nations and NATO.

Shifting Alliances

  • Turkey’s decision might catalyze a reevaluation of traditional alliances and blocs, particularly in the Middle East. This realignment could see Turkey enhancing its diplomatic engagements with nations that share similar stances on Palestine, while potentially straining relations with Western nations and those Arab states that have normalized relations with Israel.
  • Recent trends indicate a general shift towards more fluid and reversible alliances globally, often influenced by the changing dynamics of power and the entrance of new influential players on the world stage, such as China​​.

Impact on Global Diplomacy

  • Turkey’s stance could lead to significant repercussions within major global forums. Traditionally seen as a strategic bridge between the East and West, Turkey’s recent pivot could lead to a reassessment of its role and influence within these bodies. The responses and adjustments in the strategies of global powers like the United States and the European Union are particularly important in this regard.
  • The reactions within the United Nations and NATO to Turkey’s sanctions could signal how these bodies might adapt to the evolving diplomatic landscape, where regional interests and new geopolitical realities might lead to a reconfiguration of alliances and diplomatic approaches.

    This dynamic situation underscores the importance of strategic multialignment in contemporary international relations, where countries are increasingly seeking to diversify their diplomatic and economic connections to navigate a complex global environment effectively​.

    These developments suggest a notable shift in the global order, with Turkey potentially playing a pivotal role in redefining diplomatic and economic relationships across the world.

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