Turkish truckers, cut off from Persian Gulf destinations by the civil war in Syria, have begun crossing by ferry to Haifa and continuing on to their destinations via Israel and Jordan.

The Turkish Daily Hurriyet reported this week that the new route was a commercial initiative. It clearly had the backing of both governments, even though it was implemented before the recent move towards restoration of full diplomatic relations which began two weeks ago when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu telephoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and apologized for the deaths of nine militants aboard the Mavi Marmara three years ago.

The traditional truck route between Turkey and the Gulf was through Iraq, but when war and insurgency made that passage impossible in recent years, the route shifted to Syria. However, as the civil war in Syria spread, that also became too hazardous.

Another alternative attempted by Turkish truckers was a ferry to Port Said, a drive through Sinai, then a ferry to Aqaba in Jordan, and from there on to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. That too has been rendered dangerous by the near-anarchy prevailing in Sinai. It is also more expensive than the Levant routes.

The Haifa route made sense to both Turkey and Israel. The Turkish ferry sails from Iskanderun, its closest port to Israel, just north of the Syrian border.

An American traveler reported on his blog last week that he and two other foreigners were the only tourists aboard the ferry sailing between the two ports, but that the ship’s salon was filled with Turkish truckers playing backgammon and drinking tea. The Turkish media reports that about 100 trucks a week are taking advantage of the Israel route and that this is expected to increase to 500.

Although diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey were virtually frozen following the maritime clash three years ago – and the flood of Israeli tourists to Turkey dwindled to a trickle – commercial relations have thrived during this period. Turkey’s imports from Israel increased from $1.3 billion in 2010 to $1.85b. in the past year.

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