Israeli produce found in Lebanon exposes trade

Uproar caused by discovery of Israeli goods in Lebanese supermarket highlights complex subject of Israeli-Arab trade.

Boycott Israel 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boycott Israel 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 Tuesday.
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 Jordan.
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 gaming.
One manager in the industry said that Arab customers were mostly involved in foreign currency trading, which also has many Israel-based companies.
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.