The last week in the Middle East has seen regional tensions increase in some areas and a push for reconciliation between several states as the region prepares for a change in US administration. The US designated the Houthi rebels as terrorists in Yemen on January 10, part of a series of designations of pro-Iranian groups across the region. This has included a spotlight on pro-Iranian groups in Iraq. It was the one-year anniversary of the Iranian ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad base this last week. An interesting article looks at how traumatic the attack was for US troops based there. A report also noted that Iran may be moving more drone threats to a base in Yemen, raising concerns in the region. The US also announced new partnerships with Bahrain and the UAE on January 15.
See below for our weekly digest of important developments.
Although the regional tensions with Iran are not always directly related to Israel-Gulf ties, they overshadow current developments. For instance, Iran conducted a series of drone and missile drills on January 15-16. The US is moving to include Israel in US Central Command. This will impact possible Israel-Gulf military cooperation with the United States in the future. The US has important bases in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Qatar’s reconciliation with Saudi Arabia has impacted the region and is leading to the opening of airspace with Bahrain, and Air Arabia will resume flights from the UAE to Qatar. Qatar Financial Center is seeking some $25 billion in investments and the region may be impacted by new financial ties in the wake of the reconciliation.
Israel’s IMCO said in the last week that it will participate at the IDEX defense expo in Abu Dhabi. The company says “with 45 years of experience creating electronic solutions for high-end military customers, across all defense categories, IMCO Group has supported the defense industry through its most transformative decades.” IMCO subsidiaries and other companies will form part of a major Israeli presence at the show for the first time. As we approach February 21, when the confab begins, more Israeli companies will announce what they intend to showcase. UAVs, sensors, optics and air defense solutions are all possibilities. Israel is an innovator in a variety of defense platforms that will be of interest to the massive audience at IDEX. IAI has confirmed it is attending, The Israel Gulf Report is seeking to confirm which products may be presented. Check out some exhibitors here.
The massive Gulfood event is also coming in February with some 5,000 suppliers from 198 countries. It is not clear how many Israelis intend to exhibit, and we are working on confirming those that will.
The 8th edition of CyberTech Global will take place in April. Yigal Unna, Director General of Israel's National Cyber Directorate will speak. Dr. Mohamed al-Kuwait is also scheduled to speak. He is Executive Director of the National Electronic Security Authority in the UAE.
Israel and the UAE are moving forward with visa-free travel. Reports this week confirmed that further hurdles in this process were overcome and in February all the details should enable the full visa-free travel as it was ratified in Abu Dhabi. This will be further facilitated as Israel’s diplomatic presence takes shape in the UAE in coming months.
Ambassador Houda Nonoo of Bahrain's Foreign Ministry has spoken this week about her participation in a women’s development network and she has tweeted increasingly about Bahrain’s diplomacy. She previously served as the Ambassador of Bahrain to the United States and non-resident Ambassador to Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.
“I’m honored to be part of the United Women’s Economic Development Network and to have participated in today's launch event which was hosted by the US State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and the US International Development Finance Corporation,” she wrote on January 14. She also tweeted about the new International Airport in Bahrain. As flights begin between Israel and the Bahrain and as Covid restrictions in Israel and the Gulf may change in coming months, this will be of utmost importance.
Overall, Nonoo’s discussion about women’s economic development dovetails with the high profile involvement of women in general in the new peace era: Hend al-Otaiba in the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been outspoken on peace (see her November 2020 piece at Tablet), as well as Israel’s Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum. Although not linked to Israel, in Saudi Arabia reports say women will soon be appointed as judges in the Kingdom.
In addition this week, United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Youth Affairs Shamma Al Mazrui Friday hailed the “wisdom of Shabbat” and said she recognized many similarities between Judaism and Islam, in a Zoom meeting. This was highlighted by voices in the UAE on social media.
Other voices who have been key to promoting the new peace deals, such as Thani al-Shirawi, also posted about new media events this past week. In addition Ahdeya Ahmed AlSayed, the president of the Bahrain Journalists Association, asked Jewish-American colleagues at the American Jewish Press Association to support Arab media professionals who are bullied and threatened online for supporting normalisation with Israel. Her organization has 600 members, according to reports. See more tweets by Ahdeya Ahmed alSayed.
Both Israel, the UAE and Bahrain’s vaccination efforts against Covid were praised this week, as the countries continue to be world leaders in these efforts.
There have also been more developments for the Jewish community, including the UAE’s role in helping reunite Yemenite Jewish families. Video posted online showed a new Torah scroll in the Emirates and Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie’s of the Jewish community of the Emirates (JCE) spoke to JNS about this historic time and his role.
Reports indicate Wizz Air will open new flights to Tel Aviv. Four weekly flights will go to Abu Dhabi from Israel. After 70,000 people flew to Dubai from Israel in November and December there was a downturn in the flow due to a strict lockdown in Israel. Some chose to stay on in the UAE until the lockdown ends. There is hope for relaxation of the lockdown in mid-February.
Asher Fredman, a founding Member of the UAE-Israel Business Council, is also establishing a venture to expand UAE-Israel greentech cooperation. Greentech, like cyber and other innovative Israeli start-up solutions has a natural partnership in the UAE which is pushing the envelope in these future technologies.
Stay tuned for next week’s new interviews with cultural figures and movers and shakers from the Gulf to Israel. See our website and follow on social media.