Trade ties between Turkey and Israel increased even during times of diplomatic tension, and a developing diamond business is contributing hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars to this trade, according to Shai Cohen, Israel’s outgoing consul general to Istanbul.
“The trade in precious stones, which is not calculated in the classical trade volume, is having very high growth,” Cohen told in a recent interview.
He said a delegation of 20 people representing Israel’s top diamond and other precious stones businesses visited Turkey in May 2015 and a Turkish delegation repaid the visit a few months later.
“They started cutting deals and transactions began,” Cohen said.
“When you speak about diamonds, it is hundreds of millions of dollars in trade,” he said, adding that giving a concrete figure was not easy in the precious stone market.
Ties between Turkey and Israel suffered badly after the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, when Israeli commandos killed 10 people on board a flotilla bound for Gaza from Turkey.
“When the Mavi Marmara incident occurred we were at an approximately $2.8 billion in trade volume,” Cohen said.
“Then everybody expected that the situation would deteriorate and trade would be frozen because of the political situation, but the opposite happened and by 2014 we had risen two fold to $5.6 billion. In spite of the Mavi Marmara incident, in spite of the of Gaza war in 2014, trade kept on growing,” he added.
“Without the Mavi Marmara incident, we could have reached perhaps $8 billion or $10 billion in trade,” he said.
Cyber security for banks, hospitals
Another field with strong bilateral trade and business cooperation between the two countries is cyber security, according to Cohen, who highlighted two specific sectors as developing areas: The security of financial institutions and health sectors.
“Hospitals are strategic assets for a country. It’s a matter of life and death,” he said, adding that the two countries are also developing cyber security relations in public transport.
For the past two years, the Israeli Consulate General in Istanbul has been sending young entrepreneurs from Turkey to Israel to exchange knowhow.
Some 60 to 70 people, mainly students aged between 22 and 25 from industrial or economic studies departments of universities, attend the program.
“They go to Israel for four days and they are exposed to Israeli innovation, research and development and high tech and they come back to Turkey with these examples in their minds,” Cohen said.
“In Israel we have a relatively new authority for innovation, under which all sectors and subsectors are encompassed. Israel has a lot of knowhow in this field, we are a start-up nation,” he said, noting that there are 7,000 to 8,000 start-ups in the country at any given moment,
“Statistics show that some 10 percent of them succeed,” he added.
Cohen called on the two countries to boost investments in innovative areas, especially in third countries.
The consul general, who has family roots in Turkey, said “the most precious thing that I am taking back with me to Israel after this mission is the true friendship of the people here.”
“The human approach was very surprising from my first day here. As the days passed on my mission, I found that it is a true feeling and true hearts between the two people. This was not only because I am the consul general of Israel and it is not a few friends but hundreds of people who I have contacted here. You don’t want to lose this kind of friendship,” he said.