|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [Hangout - NYLXS] UAE via Tel Aviva - Easy Peasy
Israelis Flock to the Gulf, Undeterred by Government Warning of Iranian
Felicia Schwartz in Tel Aviv and Rory Jones in Dubai
Israelis are traveling in droves to the United Arab Emirates for work
and pleasure, filling up the first-ever direct commercial flights
between the two countries in pursuit of new opportunities in the Persian
Gulf despite heightened tensions in the region.
The U.A.E. hosts a fairly large Iranian population and has regular
direct flights from Iran, raising Israeli concerns that its citizens
could be targeted by Tehran there in the wake of the killing of a top
Iranian scientist last month.
Iran has blamed Israel for the Nov. 27 killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,
considered the father of the country’s nuclear program, and has vowed
Israel hasn’t confirmed or denied its involvement. It urged its citizens
to stay vigilant and avoid crowded public areas in the U.A.E., citing
the threat of Iranian attacks.
For now, those threats haven’t dissuaded Israeli investors such as
Dorian Barak from traveling to the U.A.E.
“A lot of people have asked me if I feel safe going now given what’s
going on, including my family,” said Mr. Barak, founder of the
U.A.E.-Israel Business Council. “Although retribution is always
threatened, you still have a much greater chance dying from a car
accident or Covid or a freak illness than an Iranian revenge attack.”
Israel in September signed agreements to establish diplomatic relations
with the U.A.E. and Bahrain, marking a broader realignment in the
turbulent Middle East as the historic enemies found common cause against
Iran. It is also working to secure a U.S.-brokered peace deal with Saudi
Arabia, another Iranian rival.
Formal ties between Israel and the Arab states are expected to make
intelligence sharing easier. They are also expected to bolster business
and tourism ties. Thousands of Israelis are gearing up to visit the
U.A.E. for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah that began Thursday evening,
according to travel agents.
Emirati and Bahraini officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on
the Israeli warning. The U.A.E. was quick to condemn the Iranian
Any significant attacks or blowback on Israelis could put these nascent
ties in jeopardy, and Gulf Arab states are also vulnerable, as attacks
on Gulf oil tanker attacks and drone strikes against oil infrastructure
Israeli and Emirati companies so far have signed at least 12 memorandums
of understanding, according to Mr. Barak, including one signed this week
between an Israeli wastewater treatment company and an Emirati conglomerate.
Israel–U.A.E. Flight Marks New Era of Diplomatic Ties
0:48 / 1:26
A plane departed from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi carrying top Israeli and
U.S. officials. It marks a historic moment between the two nations as
the U.A.E. is the first Gulf Arab state to announce a formal bond with
Israel. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP
Direct flights between the U.A.E. and Israel started a day before Mr.
Fakhrizadeh was killed.
Travel agents say about 25,000 Israelis are expected in Dubai for
Hanukkah and the figure will likely increase once the visa-free travel
regime is in full force. Visa-free travel for Israelis begins later in
December, with those traveling before getting visas under a temporary
arrangement. Earlier this week, several hundred Israeli visitors were
held up at Dubai’s airport because of a visa mix-up but were later
On Monday, hundreds of Israelis attended a business conference in Dubai
to forge new relationships in a fast-growing market for one of Israel’s
top exports: technology. Israeli speakers at the event included Yigal
Unna, director general of the Israeli government body tasked with cyber
defense, and David Leffler, head of Israel’s Ministry of Economy.
“It’s a chance you cannot miss,” said Avi Eyal, the co-founder of Israel
and U.K.-based venture firm Entree Capital, whose investments include
video app Houseparty and project-management software monday.com. The
event was one the first major opportunities to build business ties and
relationships in the U.A.E., he said.
Organizers of the technology conference declined to comment on whether
they had added security measures to ensure the safety of Israelis,
referring questions to Dubai’s police department. It didn’t respond to
questions on additional security, but said, “Dubai has always had a
reputation for being the safety oasis that opens its arms to the world.”
The conference even held a specific event for Israelis, dubbed the
U.A.E.-Israel Future Digital Economy Summit, that aimed to foster ties
between the two countries. Among the top speakers was Dov Kotler, chief
executive of Bank Hapoalim, one of Israel’s largest lenders and a
high-profile sponsor of the event.
Ahead of Monday’s summit, Israelis and Emiratis gathered for dinner and
drinks on the rooftop of the Emirates Towers, a luxury hotel and office
complex that also houses the office of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al
Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler and the prime minister of the U.A.E., according
to attendees. Israeli singer Shiri Maimon performed a live set that
included Hebrew, Arabic and English versions of Leonard Cohen’s
“Hallelujah,” they said.
Some would-be travelers are rethinking visits after the warnings, said
Avigdor Orgad, a travel agent who runs the Facebook page Dubai for
Israelis, which has 5,400 members. But most are pressing ahead with
their travel plans, he said.
“Israelis all their lives are under one big risk, if we take all the
risks [to heart], we’d never travel around,” Mr. Orgad said. “I’m
telling my customers not to stand out, not speak loudly on the street
and to be aware.”
Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz-at-wsj.com and Rory Jones at
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