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Driving Through Israel

Jordanian and Turkish Trucks Just Passing Through

Thousands of Turkish and Jordanian trucks have begun using Israel as a transit route after the ongoing fighting in Syria has made using that country as a conduit increasingly dangerous. The trucks travel through northern Israel between Jordan and the port of Haifa, transporting Jordanian or Iraqi goods Turkey or vice-versa.

“I’m sure that practically and economically it’s a positive thing but it comes at a very sensitive time in relations between Jordan and Israel, Dr. Musa Shteiwi, the Director for the Center of Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan told The Media Line. “It is a sensitive issue and it might have some backlash.”

Although Jordan and Israel have a peace treaty, there has been increasing criticism from both within Jordan and from other Arab parties of “normalization”, meaning deepening the connection between the two countries. It comes as Jordan’s King Abdullah, who met President Obama this week in Washington, is trying to maintain stability in Jordan as neighboring countries such as Egypt and Syria are facing increasing threats to their stability.

Israeli transportation experts say that Israel is a potential bridge between the Mediterranean Sea and Arab countries. Jordan is almost completely landlocked – it’s only outlet is the small port of Aqaba on the Red Sea.

“Hopefully people will understand that there is a more efficient and cheaper route than shipping through Syria,” Deputy Foreign Minister Paul Hirschson told The Media Line. “We’ve always thought Israel was a good option from a freight-forwarding point of view. We’ve got great harbors and great roads.”

Not that the Turkish and Jordanian drivers will see much of the country. The trucks, with Jordanian or Turkish license plates, make no stops. The trucks from Turkey roll off a freighter in Israel’s port of Haifa and are driven some 50 miles straight across Israel to the Sheikh Hussein crossing between Israel and Jordan. They carry mostly raw materials for industry and food.

The Jordanian trucks do the opposite route, carrying agricultural produce to Turkey. All of the trucks undergo extensive Israeli security checks.

The Israel Tax Authority says the number of trucks plying the route has increased dramatically in the past year. In 2011, some 3500 trucks made the journey. In the first quarter of 2013 alone, there were some 2600 trucks in both directions.

Israeli officials hope that the trucking route could lead to better relations with both Jordan and Turkey. Ties with the latter have already approved after Israel agreed to pay compensation for nine Turkish citizens killed in a clash with Israeli soldiers in 2010 on board the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-flagged ship trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

“I think it illustrates to Jordan and Turkey that we are a reliable alternative even during the best of times,” Hirschson said. “It will make the market more competitive and it illustrates the relevance we have to regional business. We can be not only a supplier of products but a supplier of services.”

Officials at Tiran Shipping, the Israeli company providing the service, were concerned that publication of the route could lead to its cancellation.

“We want to keep a low profile – we don’t want to make the Jordanians nervous because there is some opposition there,” an official who asked to remain anonymous told The Media Line. “It can be good for Israel, and for us, but right now it’s mostly a headache.”

So far the move is being seen in Israel as primarily a gesture to Turkey and Jordan. However, it could become a source of revenue with estimates that port duties, refueling and insurance could total some $60 million annually.