A report of Israeli produce being discovered for sale in a major Lebanon
supermarket chain is not surprising.
A customer reported the existence of
Israeli produce to the army, according to the report in the Lebanese Daily Star
Shortly thereafter, military intelligence and police arrived to
investigate. The case was referred to the military judiciary to discover how the
items made it into the country.
The story highlights the complex and
sensitive subject of Israeli-Arab trade. The official Arab League boycott of
Israel, in place since Israel’s independence in 1948, is maintained by the
Central Boycott Office in Damascus.
However, on the ground, its
enforcement has varied across the Arab world.
In an article last year in
Middle East Economy by Yitzhak Gal from Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center
for Middle Eastern and African Studies, he wrote that “Israel’s exports to
Middle Eastern markets in 2011 are estimated at above $6 billion, about 13
percent of overall Israeli exports.”
While most trade in the region is
with the Palestinian Authority and Turkey, there still is some with other Arab
countries in the region besides Jordan and Egypt, which have signed peace
agreements with Israel.
The low amount of trade to “enemy” Arab countries
shows that there is a lot of growth potential there.
The Middle East
Monitor website last Friday stated that Israeli-made food with Hebrew stamps of
approval from the Chief Rabbinate was selling throughout Jordan. Agricultural
produce from West Bank settlements is also widely available in
Many Israeli goods that appear in Arab countries are relabeled
and sent through third countries. Other online services or hi-tech companies do
not identify themselves as Israeli on their websites and only list their offices
in foreign locations, such as New York or London.
Even companies whose
headquarters are based in Israel, but have a few members outside the country,
will often only name their foreign offices.
Several people involved in
the online gambling industry in Israel said they have few clients from Arab
countries, but in general Arabs are not big customers in online
One manager in the industry said that Arab customers were mostly
involved in foreign currency trading, which also has many Israel-based
These companies have Israeli Arabs dealing with Arabs
throughout the region, though; the clients do not know they are speaking with
someone in Israel.
Other Israeli companies have been active in Arab
countries that do not have formal relations with Israel, using third countries
or employees with foreign passports to close deals.
One Israeli with dual
citizenship from a Western country, who did not want to be quoted on the record,
said he works for a company that has been active in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt
and other Muslim countries.
According to a 2011 US report prepared for
Congress, the Central Boycott Office in Damascus keeps a blacklist of global
companies that do business with Israel. However, the embargo is not binding on
Arab League states and enforcement is varied. Egypt, the PA and Jordan have
formally ended their boycotts.
According to the report, Mauritania,
Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia do not enforce the boycott and Bahrain, Kuwait,
Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE only enforce it on direct transactions,
but do not prohibit business with international companies that also deal with
Israel. The report notes, however, that Gulf countries continue to pressure them
to impose the boycott.
The US has led international efforts to end the
boycott, but it has not been successful.