Trade increases between UAE-Israel; coexistence highlights Holocaust Memorial Day

The last week and a half of January 2021 has been important for Israel-Gulf relations but has also seen expected hurdles put up as Covid variants and the pandemic slowed travel. Some 130,000 Israelis have visited Dubai and Bahrain’s new airport terminal is now open but Israel closed its airport and land borders in the last week of January, leading to some Israelis being stranded abroad temporarily.

One cultural highlight, this week Chama Mechtaly spoke with The Jerusalem Post in a feature story on her art work at Moors and Saints. The article notes: “A cultural renaissance is taking place in the Middle East. A new golden era could be blossoming and possibilities are being unlocked. These feelings are being conjured up by a Dubai-based Moroccan visual artist and activist who has been shedding light on the unique Jewish history in Morocco.” See link.

Mechtaly works in the ‘language of luxury goods and fine jewelry.’ (photo credit: CHAMA MECHTALY).

In Washington the new US administration continues to build its team. International Crisis Group released a report arguing “The incoming Biden administration and Iran should move swiftly to revive the nuclear agreement on its existing terms. A staggered timetable to bring both sides back into full compliance likely is the best path toward nuclear and regional de-escalation, opening the possibility of broader talks with the next Iranian president.” Robert Malley, of Crisis Group, has been appointed the new administration’s Iran envoy. At the same time important high level discussions have been had between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and their Israeli counterparts. Blinken has praised the Abraham Accords although there is lack of clarity whether the White House will buy-in to stabilization in the region or pivot more to Asia.

The new US administration, as many expected, has paused F-35 sales to the UAE. This sale had just been moved forward by the last administration, along with drone sales and other munitions. The pause was expected. It is part of a larger context, however, in which Italy and the US are reviewing arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The US and regional allies continue to discuss how air defense might be employed better across the region. Drones continue to a threat, for instance. Israel has supplied two Iron Dome systems to the US Army. Israeli defense companies will be at IDEX in Abu Dhabi in February. This important event will include Israel’s IAI and also Rafael, the makers of the Iron Dome radar and interceptors. Read our report here.

Wikistrat held a "Exploring Opportunities of Israel-GCC Normalization" simulation which concluded on January 29. This is one of many important examinations of how Israel-Gulf relations will develop.

A report by the Dubai Customs says that trade between Israel and the UAE has reached 1 billion AED in five months. This is despite numerous hurdles that had to be overcome, such as banking agreements and visas and other challenges relating to the pandemic. Nevertheless that imports and exports are flowing, both by sea and air. The important link between the two countries already involves diamonds, vegetables, spare parts and electronics.

Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27 was marked around the world. Voices in the UAE, Bahrain and Israel discussed the important day as part of a new and growing coexistence effort from the Gulf to highlight support for education about the Shoah. Read a story by the Israel Gulf Report here on one event. Houda Nonoo, Bahrain’s former Ambassador of Bahrain to the United States and non-resident Ambassador to Canada, Brazil, Mexico & Argentina, has been more outspoken on social media recently pushing coexistence messages. “Join me each week as we wish each other #ShabbatShalom from different landmarks and sites in #Bahrain. I hope you will #visitbahrain and be able to see this unique phenomenon for yourself,” she writes. UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba also spoke about the memorial day. “Today, we join the international community and remember the six million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Nazis. We also pay tribute to all those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. The hatred that contributed to the genocide remains present today."

The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre hosted a webinar in late January with experts from the Emirates Agency of Kosher Certification, the largest kosher certifier in the Gulf region, to discuss food and hospitality and kosher travel. This is important because the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf are seeing a major increase in Israeli and Jewish tourism with great potential for the year ahead as demand for kosher options grows. Sanjeev Dutta, executive director of Commodities and Financial Services at DMCC says that “since the signing of the UAE-Israel peace accord, we have seen a strategic shift across the region, with enhanced commercial ties and a host of new opportunities all stemming from the agreement, with the kosher food market being a great example.” On January 28 Rabbi Elie Abadie, senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates (JCE), and Alex Peterfreund, co-founder and cantor of the JCE, installed a mezuzah on the new representative office of the Israel Diamond Exchange in Dubai’s Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC).

US CENTCOM head General Kenneth McKenzie arrived in Israel on TuBShvat. “Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. began a two-day visit to Israel today. At the center of the visit is a strategic situational assessment with the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, along with the promotion of regional partnerships against emerging threats,” the IDF said. This is the first time since Israel is being officially moved under CENTCOM. The important move and the visit highlight close military relations between the commanders and Israel. This is important also for the Gulf because of Central Command bases there.

Israel’s top envoy in the UAE, Ambassador Eitan Na’eh, has been more active on social media and giving interviews as he begins his important role in representing Israel in Abu Dhabi. Read our report here. "The Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi officially opened today with the arrival of the Head of Mission, Mr. Eitan Na’eh. The Israeli embassy in the United Arab Emirates will promote the full range of relations between the two countries in all areas, and expand ties with the Emirati government, economic bodies and the private sector, academic institutions, the media, and more," the Israeli January 24 statement said.

Hebrew has been added to an Abu Dhabi health website that informs people about Covid. Writers are emphasizing the importance of people-to-people relations, see this piece written by Majid Al Sarrah, Nir Boms, Najat Al Saied and Dan Feferman. Israel’s INSS held an important conference and Jason Greenblatt was in Saudi Arabia.

The UAE is investing in clean energy in Israel, according to reports. DP World is advancing its interest in Haifa port. We will cover Gulf Food, IDEX and other important upcoming events. In addition we will have a new interview with Fly Dubai soon. Israel’s airport closures and visa waiver hurdles appear that they will impact new travel to the UAE from Israel through July.