ISRAEL’S borders have changed repeatedly since it declared statehood in 1948, but its dependence on the Mediterranean coastline has not. Tel Aviv, the economic heart of Israel, grew from the ancient port of Jaffa (or Yafo). The country’s maritime industry has faced relentless challenges over the years, and the present war presents yet another challenge.


Access to foreign markets has been important for Israel’s economic expansion. Australia established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1949. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade describes the relationship between the two countries as a close one, characterised by significant people-to-people links and broad commercial engagement.

The bilateral economic relationship between Australia and Israel is growing. The latest available data from DFAT indicates Israel was Australia’s 46th largest two-way trading market and 54th largest export market in 2021. The two-way goods and services trade amounted to about $1.34 billion that year, with Aussie exports worth $325 million and imports from Israel worth more than $1 billion.

Israel has a technologically advanced market economy and one of the most developed innovation ecosystems in the world. Services exports account for more than 50% of the nation’s total exports, but on the resources front, Israel has become an exporter of natural gas.

Israel has been continuously developing its offshore gas resources since the first commercial discovery of natural gas in 2000. Two major gas fields were discovered off the coast of Israel in 2009, and DFAT notes the discovery has the potential to transform Israel into a net exporter of energy. Israel signed gas export deals with Jordan, Egypt and the EU in 2017.

In October 2022, Israel and neighbouring Lebanon finalised an agreement for a permanent maritime boundary, under which both countries were entitled to the natural resources on their respective sides of the boundary.


The deepwater ports of Haifa and Ashdod on Israel’s Mediterranean coast and the port of Eilat on the Red Sea coast are operated by the Israel Ports and Railways Authority. Port of Haifa is the largest of the three ports, handling close to 20 million tons of cargo each year, according to the port’s website.

An important player in Israel’s maritime industry – and indeed the global container shipping industry – is Israeli shipping line Zim. The company was founded in 1945 and expanded into container shipping in the early 1970s. The name Zim comes from a Hebrew word used in the Bible to refer to a fleet of ships.

Britannica highlights shipping for its important role in Israel’s economy and in its communications with other countries. Maritime transportation supported the movement of supplies when land frontiers closed after the Arab blockade of Israel – there have been several notable military conflicts between Arab and Israeli forces, including the Six Day War in 1967.

But conflict has also hindered shipping repeatedly – in 1948 Egypt blocked access to the Suez Canal for Israeli-flagged ships and other ships transporting cargo to and from Israel’s ports. In 1957 Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba. The Straits of Tiran connect the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. Egypt blockaded the straits again in May 1967, a move Israel cited as the casus belli for the Six Day War.


Conflict has created challenges for Israeli shipping again in 2023 and 2024. The ongoing Israel-Hamas war has had farreaching consequences for shipping and global supply chains.

After the war broke out in October 2023, pro-Palestine protesters gathered at Port Botany and at the ports of Melbourne and Fremantle (and other ports around the world) to attempt to block the arrival of Zim ships. And on 20 November, Yemen’s Houthi militia began attacking ships transiting the Red Sea. The Houthis control most of western Yemen including the capital Sana’a and much of the country’s Red Sea coast. Initially targeting ships affiliated with Israel, the Houthis eventually broadened their threat to include all ships sailing to Israeli ports.

The threat against commercial shipping has escalated to a point of forcing the world’s largest shipping companies to pull out of the Red Sea. They are diverting ships from the vital Suez Canal and sending them around the Cape of Good Hope instead.

This article appeared in the February 2024 edition of DCN Magazine