Israelis flock to Gulf, undeterred by government warnings of Iranian attacks
Israelis flock to the UAE in droves for business and pleasure, filling the very first direct commercial flights between the two countries in search of new opportunities in the Persian Gulf despite heightened tensions in the region.
The UAE is home to a sizable Iranian population and has regular direct flights from Iran, leading Israel to fear that its citizens may be targeted by Tehran as a result of the attack. assassination of top Iranian scientist last month.
Iran blamed Israel for the November 27 murder of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered the father of the country’s nuclear program, and swore revenge.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement. He urged his citizens to remain vigilant and avoid overcrowded public areas in the UAE, citing the threat of Iranian attacks.
So far, these threats have not deterred Israeli investors such as Dorian Barak from visiting the UAE.
“A lot of people have asked me if I feel safe now given what is going on, including my family,” said Mr. Barak, founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council. “While retaliation is always in danger, you still have a much greater chance of dying from a car crash or Covid or from an abnormal illness than an Iranian revenge attack.”
Israel in September signed agreements to establish diplomatic relations with the UAE and Bahrain, marking a broader realignment in the turbulent Middle East as historic enemies found common cause against Iran. He is also working to secure a US-brokered peace deal with Saudi Arabia, another Iranian rival.
Official ties between Israel and the Arab states should facilitate intelligence sharing. They should also strengthen trade and tourism links. Thousands of Israelis are preparing to visit the United Arab Emirates for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah which began Thursday evening, according to travel agents.
Emirati and Bahraini officials did not respond to requests for comment on the Israeli warning. The United Arab Emirates quickly condemned the murder of the Iranian scientist.
Any significant attack or backlash against the Israelis could jeopardize these nascent ties, and the Arab Gulf states are also vulnerable, as the attacks on Gulf tankers and drone strikes on oil infrastructure have shown.
Israeli and Emirati companies have so far signed at least 12 memoranda of understanding, according to Barak, including one signed this week between an Israeli wastewater treatment company and an Emirati conglomerate.
Direct flights between the UAE and Israel began a day before Mr. Fakhrizadeh was killed.
Travel agents say around 25,000 Israelis are expected in Dubai for Hanukkah and this figure will likely increase once visa-free travel regime is in full force. Visa-free travel for Israelis begins later in December, with those traveling before obtaining visas under a temporary arrangement. Earlier this week, several hundred Israeli visitors were held up at Dubai airport due to a visa error, but were subsequently allowed entry.
Hundreds of Israelis attended a business conference in Dubai on Monday to forge new relationships in a rapidly growing market for one of Israel’s main exports: technology. Among the Israeli speakers at the event were Yigal Unna, director general of the Israeli government agency responsible for cyber defense, and David Leffler, head of the Israeli Ministry of Economy.
“This is an opportunity you can’t miss,” said Avi Eyal, co-founder of Enter Capital, an Israel and UK-based venture capital firm whose investments include the Houseparty video app and monday.com project management software. The event was one of the first major opportunities to forge business ties and relationships in the UAE, he said.
Organizers of the tech conference declined to say whether they had added security measures to keep Israelis safe, referring questions to the Dubai Police Department. He did not answer questions about additional security, but said: “Dubai has always had a reputation as the security oasis that opens its arms to the world.
The conference even organized a specific event for Israelis, dubbed the UAE-Israel Summit on the Digital Economy of the Future, which aimed to strengthen ties between the two countries. Keynote speakers included Dov Kotler, managing director of Bank Hapoalim, one of Israel’s largest lenders and a leading sponsor of the event.
Ahead of Monday’s summit, Israelis and Emiratis gathered for dinner and drinks on the rooftop of Emirates Towers, a luxury hotel and office complex that also houses the office of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai. and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, according to participants. Israeli singer Shiri Maimon performed a live set that included Hebrew, Arabic and English versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, they said.
Some potential travelers are rethinking their visits after the warnings, said Avigdor Orgad, a travel agent who runs the
Dubai page for Israelis, which has 5,400 members. But most are moving ahead with their travel plans, he said.
“Israelis are at great risk all their lives, if we take all the risks [to heart], we would never move, ”Mr. Orgad said. “I tell my clients not to stand out, not to speak loudly in the street, and to be vigilant.”
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