By Erdal Celikel
ANKARA (AA) – The chairman of the Turkish-Israeli Business Council at Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK) believes normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel will help bolster the trade volume between Turkey and the Jewish state.
"Trade relations between Israel and Turkey have considerable potential, regardless of the current state of our diplomatic ties," Hasan Akcakayalioglu told Anadolu Agency in exclusive comments.
"Even at a time of weak diplomatic relations, business [between us] still increased," he said.
Turkish-Israeli relations were suspended in 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish humanitarian aid ship that attempted to lift the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Ten Turkish activists were killed in the incident.
Ankara later demanded a formal apology for the incident, monetary compensation for the families of those killed, and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced his "regret" for the incident in 2013, the latter two conditions have yet to be met.
"Normalizing diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel will benefit both countries," Akcakayalioglu said.
He noted that the number of Israelis visiting Turkey on an annual basis had fallen to around 220,000, down from an earlier 700,000.
"Turkey has the potential to take in at least one million Israeli tourists each year," he said.
"With the normalization of ties, Israeli natural gas will be able to reach European markets through Turkey," he added.
"This would be a win-win solution that would multiply our trade volumes," he said.
Ahmet Arik, the chairman of a Turkish construction firm that has been operating in Israel for the last 20 years, said his company -- which employs some 200,000 people – suffered from high rates of taxation.
"Normalizing [relations with Israel] would help alleviate the tax burden," he said.
Turkey’s exports to Israel rose by 13 percent -- to around $2.7 billion -- from 2011 to 2015, according to official Turkish statistics.
Over the same period, Turkish imports from Israel dropped from around $2 billion to $1.6 billion.
The bilateral trade volume (per million dollars) and the number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey over the last five years are as follows:
Anadolu Agency correspondent Ahmet Sait Akcay contributed to this report from Ankara