In the closing days of August, the United Arab Emirates said it would establish full diplomatic ties with Israel, which would make it just the third Arab nation to do so. The long-awaited announcement set off a flurry of excitement in Israel, bringing years of covert business and security ties into the open and adding an appealing tourist destination for both the UAE and Israel.
How does a diplomatic breakthrough such as this affect the aviation business as well as trade and tourism? The travel opportunities throughout the region are obvious. Israeli TV stations have already dispatched reporters to the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation and local media has been filled with footage of Dubai’s shiny skyscrapers, massive malls, artificial islands and sandy beaches. Newspapers have been blaring headlines of a “new Middle East” and publishing tutorial articles about the Emirati economy, landscape and royal family.
The interchange has endless possibilities reaching down into trade and business link-ups.
The U.S.-brokered deal has been billed as a diplomatic breakthrough that formalizes the alliance against Iran. The UAE says it halted Israel’s plans to annex up to a third of the West Bank, land sought by the Palestinians. The U.S. was a key participant in the negotiations and had representatives on the first flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi.
But for many Israelis, the benefits of the deal lie mostly in fulfilling their long-time yearning for acceptance in the Middle East.
The prospect of mutual embassies, expanding tourism to the Gulf and solidifying business opportunities with another country that shares its penchant for technology and innovation has given a strong dose of optimism to both parties.
“We used to have to `launder the products’ and go through all kinds of intermediaries to do business with Arabs,” said Gadi Nir in the Israel Hayem, and co-founder and chief executive of Bobo, an Israeli company that makes physiotherapy and rehabilitative products and just signed one of the first deals with a UAE company. “It was always indirect and artificial. Now we can get personal. We don’t have to hide under the carpet anymore.”
Israeli travel agents say they have already been swamped by calls from Emirati colleagues in anticipation. Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, joined in the excitement, dispatching a letter to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to formally invite him to visit Israel.
The speculation begins as to which Arab nation will be next? The candidates would appear to be Bahrain, Oman and Sudan. Oman and Israel said their foreign ministers had spoken and, according to Israel, agreed to “maintain direct and continual contact.”
For Israel, Saudi Arabia – which still has not commented on the UAE’s decision – would be the ultimate goal.