The enemy within: Arab states that trade with Israel

Mohamad Hasan Sweidan, The Cradle, January 31, 2024 —

West Asian exports to Israel have skyrocketed since 2020. These are the Arab and Muslim governments that put goods on Israeli shelves, despite their public stances supporting Gaza.

Israeli import data reveals that a number of Arab countries play a significant role in buoying the occupation state’s trade volume, despite attempts by other regional nations to weaken Israel’s economy.

Since this decade’s onset, Israeli ports have been teeming with the arrival of goods from across the region. Each shipment not only boosts the occupation state’s economy, but also weaves a narrative that goes beyond trade statistics as these economic interactions carry a hidden stream of political significance.

Although not an Arab country, Turkiye was the first Muslim state to establish diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, and today leads the pack of West Asian states boosting Israeli imports. In 2020 alone, the value of Turkish exports spiked to $5.7 billion, constituting 6.2 percent of total Israeli imports that year.

Iron and steel ($1.06 billion), plastics ($464.67 million), electrical and electronic equipment ($346.83  million), vehicles ($331.48  million), machinery ($298.89 million), metals ($261.66 million),  and building materials ($188.39 million) form the cornerstone of Turkish exports to the Zionist entity. 

In second place is the UAE, which normalized ties with Tel Aviv as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, and was the first Arab state to sign a free-trade agreement (2022) with Israel as part of a plan to boost mutual trade to $10 billion annually. The Persian Gulf state’s exports were valued at $1.89 billion in 2022, accounting for 2.1 percent of all Israeli imports.

Particularly intriguing is the 1543 percent surge in the value of Emirati exports to Israel since the normalization agreement. Noteworthy export categories include precious metals and stones ($525.32 million), iron and steel ($483.95 million), electrical and electronic equipment ($210.71 million), and oil ($94.55 million).

Business as usual 

Taking third place is Jordan, whose exports to Israel in 2022 reached $469.25 million, a massive 489 percent increase from 2018. Key export categories from the Hashemite Kingdom include plastics ($135.2 million), electrical and electronic equipment ($127.93 million), and iron and steel ($74.35 million).

As for Egypt, the first Arab state to make peace with and recognize Israel, its 2022 exports to the occupation state amounted to $179.31 million. Notable export categories include inorganic chemicals, precious metals compounds ($61.15 million), building materials ($14.26 million), foodstuffs ($12.78 million), and plastics ($11.32 million).

Surprisingly, in fifth place is Algeria, with Israel-bound exports reaching $21.38 million in 2022, the majority of which are inorganic chemicals, precious metals compounds, and isotopes. The revelation of trade relations between Algeria and Israel by the UN database raises questions about Algeria’s long-held stance against normalization, including its criminalization two years ago.

Morocco stands in sixth place, with exports to Israel amounting to $17.92 million in 2022, predominantly composed of foodstuffs. Rabat resumed diplomatic and trade relations with Israel as part of the 2020 accords.

Finally, Bahrain’s exports to Israel in 2022 reached $10.58 million, reflecting an astounding 12,083 percent increase from 2020, the year of the normalization agreement between Manama and Tel Aviv. Key exports include aluminum ($8.78 million) and iron and steel ($2.62 million).

As such, the combined exports of West Asian countries to Israel surged by $4,359.530,000 between 2020 and 2022, marking an increase of almost 111 percent.

Israeli Energy Imports

Israel depends heavily on oil and natural gas for its power generation, with these sources constituting 80 percent of its total energy supply. It is a net exporter of natural gas, having sent 9.4 billion cubic meters abroad in 2022, with 6.5 billion cubic meters going to Egypt and 2.9 billion cubic meters to Jordan.

In contrast, Israel imports all its oil supply, and consumes approximately 220 thousand barrels per day. Of this, 62 percent comes from two Muslim-majority countries, namely Kazakhstan (93 thousand barrels) and Azerbaijan (45 thousand barrels). The remainder is sourced from West African countries, including Gabon, Nigeria, and Angola, in addition to Brazil, and an undisclosed amount is transported illegally from Iraqi Kurdistan.

To facilitate the import of most of Israel’s oil, the Turkish port of Ceyhan in southeastern Turkiye plays a crucial role. It serves as a loading point for oil tankers carrying crude from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan through the Caspian Sea via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Tankers also transport oil from Iraqi Kurdistan along the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the ports of Haifa and Ashkelon.

Oil tankers arrive in the occupied state via two main seaports: the aforementioned Ashkelon, equipped with 22 tanks holding 11 million barrels, and Eilat in the south, with 16 large oil tanks capable of holding about 1.4 million cubic meters of oil. The latter has seen an 85 percent fall in activity amid increased naval operations executed by Yemen’s Ansarallah-aligned forces in the Red Sea against vessels bound for Israel.

Approximately 180,000 barrels per day reach Ashkelon, from where internal pipelines transport the oil to the ports of Ashdod and Haifa. Both ports have oil refineries with capacities of 100,000 and 197,000 barrels per day, respectively. Additionally, a pipeline connects Ashkelon and Eilat, traversing the Negev desert with a capacity of 1.2 million barrels per day.

Despite the growing tensions and sharp rhetoric by some regional states toward Israel since its military assault on the Gaza Strip commenced, trade activity remains largely uninterrupted. Turkiye, despite calling Israel a “terrorist” state, contributes heavily to Israel’s economic well-being by helping Tel Aviv circumvent the Yemeni blockade, increasing its overall exports to Israel, and playing a pivotal role in oil transportation.

Despite the war on Gaza, Turkish exports grew from 319.5 million dollars in November 2023 to 430.6 million dollars in December — higher even than the 408.3 million dollars exported in July, prior to the 7 October Al-Aqsa Flood operation.

Exports to Israel from the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco are hardly surprising: these are the Arab states most vested in championing regional policies that serve the interests of the occupation state. The more surprising connection, however, is the trade relations — however minimal — between Algeria and Israel.

To understand the true positions of states means to skip over the official rhetoric and examine the economic ties that politics often conceals.

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