DUBAI – For many years, Israeli entrepreneurs enter and exit the United Arab Emirates in anonymity, traveling on a second passport or doing business through third parties.
So when more than two dozen Israeli high-tech executives show up in Dubai lately, it’s hard to miss them. Chatting in Hebrew, they pass through the marble areas of Dubai Mall and up to the VIP observatory on top of the iconic Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
Less than six weeks have passed since Emirates and Bahrain, another Gulf Arab country, signed agreements to normalize relations with Israel and open embassies. But this high-level delegation of Israeli innovators came in conspicuously even before direct flights and other formal protocols were established.
Their visit was the first step in flirting between two rival parties – at least publicly – for decades. But the speed at which the once-secret relationship exploded has surprised even veterans: Theism of more than seven decades of Arab-Israeli conflict is likely to vanish within a few days.
When Israeli executives delivered their offers to major investors from Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s capital, in a luxury hotel ballroom late last month, the two sides pressed knot. The Emiratis sat attentively at round tables dressed in white robes and hoods, listening to presentations on cybersecurity and artificial intelligence and integration during the break.
To the Israeli surprise, Emiratis seemed most interested in the presentation of Taly Nechushtan, the chief executive officer of Innovopro, a food technology company that extracts a vegetable protein from chickpeas.
“Who thought?” Then, Ms. Nechushtan said, she was pleased to have caused such a stir with a regional staple food whose main ingredient is hummus. But the Israelis came at just the right time when the coronavirus pandemic disrupted trade and exposed a loophole in the United Arab Emirates: It imported up to 90% of its food.
Abubaker Seddiq Al Khoori, chief executive officer of the Abu Dhabi Capital Group investment firm, quipped: “I think we are all hungry,” said Abubaker Seddiq Al Khoori, chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Investment. Capital Group, added that the vegan food sector fits well with his group’s investment strategy.
Emirati investors have also shown a keen interest in a sensor presented by Yehonatan Ben Hamozeg, founder of Agrint, an agricultural intelligence firm. The sensor “listens” to the palm tree and allows for early detection of weevils that can damage the plant from within.
The United Arab Emirates has more than 40 million date trees, about a third of the total in the world. In a promising sign of future cooperation, a potential customer invited Mr. Ben Hamozeg, whose sensor was tested for a year at Emirates through a US subsidiary, to visit the site. its private camp.
Mohamed Mandeel, executive director of Abu Dhabi’s Royal Strategic Partnership group, said he feels a kinship with Israelis. He recounts how he performed a DNA test and found a match for his rare Babylonian gene in Tel Aviv.
“If we set religious ideologies aside and 70 years driven by conflict, war and the media, we will end up with people,” he said in an interview. . “We share the same food, same DNA, same look,” he added, describing the Israelis as “cousins.”
Dazzled by Dubai’s skyscrapers that sprung up, like Las Vegas, from the desert and heated up by friendly arms, the Israelis said the encounter was like a dream come true, unlike like anything they’ve experienced in the Arab world before.
Erel Margalit, Israeli venture capitalist and former lawmaker leading the delegation, was invited to the studio of the government-owned television station Dubai TV to appear as a guest on “Message for peace, “a program broadcast in Arabic and English, and hosted by Youssef Abdulbari, a popular host. It was filmed with the panoramic backdrop on the Dubai and Tel Aviv skyline.
Mr. Abdulbari said in front of the camera that this was the first time they had received an Israeli.
“You can say it’s like falling in love,” said Abdulbari, describing the excitement of the studios and the delightful sense of novelty.
Speaking on television about foresight, Mr Margalit said that after London, Paris and New York, where Israeli businessmen most want to reach them is their region.
“We hope we can do something great together,” he added.
Mr. Margalit, founder and chairman of JVP, a venture capital fund based in Jerusalem, rented a private jet from Tel Aviv to Dubai and was filled with business people and reporters for a prolonged visit. 4 days.
His entourage consisted of executives from the fund’s 13 most attractive portfolio companies, most of whom visited Dubai for the first time. Some are veterans of the Israeli military’s elite intelligence and technology units.
On the last flight, he described Emirates as a potential gateway to vast new markets with billions of people. In addition to the potential investment of the UAE’s oil riches in Israeli companies, he envisions a deeper partnership between advanced Israeli technology and knowledge and scope. Emiratis’ approach is based on a long business history from the Middle East to Africa and South Asia.
When they arrived, it quickly became apparent that the Israeli delegation and the United Arab Emirates were very ambitious in terms of ambition and business.
A welcome letter was hung under the door of the hotel room of the Israeli guests with the Hebrew greeting “Shalom aleichem”. Signed by the local president that owns the hotel, it also invites them to get in touch to learn about business opportunities together.
Contrary to Israel’s decades of “cold peace” with Egypt and Jordan, this relationship feels different. For those countries, very few business connections have been made, and Israeli tourists who want to venture through are very wary of speaking Hebrew in front of crowds.
One major difference is that the Israelis and the Emiratis never go to war, so the relationship comes together without the emotional baggage of defeat and bloodshed.
The tacit relationship has evolved over the decades from a burgeoning alliance of Israel and Gulf Arab states against their shared enemy, Iran. Much has been done since normalization agreements were signed, in the final weeks leading up to the US election as President Trump increased pressure to achieve some final foreign policy achievements. and.
Israeli and Emirati officials exchanged visits and signed agreements protecting investments, civil aviation, and reciprocal visa exemption to support business and tourism.
David Meidan, a former senior official of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, first visited Emirates with his boss in 2005. Since then, he moved on to business there and joined the delegation. JVP. Mr Margalit admits he helped pave the way for new arrivals.
“For me, this is closing the circle,” Mr. Meidan said.
The JVP delegates also met with government ministers, although the only one that was made openly was with the national minister for food security.
Several Israeli executives have been invited to discreet meetings with the Sheikhs over late-night mutton dinners, on boats to island residences or in jeeps on desert roads. But no instant transactions were made: The emirates have been known to be cautious about business and an Israeli company has been reviewed there for 18 months.
Emiratis also took security precautions, with secretly dressed young officers closely following the Israelis during the visit. Security-minded Israelis commented on how safe they were, even walking alone in the alleys of Dubai’s gold and spice markets absent from tourists due to the pandemic.
Businessmen from Afghanistan and elsewhere warmly greet visitors after asking where they are from.
“Come, we need you!” urges a jeweler to volunteer that he is from Iran, just across the waters of the Gulf.
The symbolism is not lost for Dror Liwer, a senior Israeli executive at Coronet, a company that provides cyberdefense based on artificial intelligence. His father, he said, traded arms with Iran before the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
“I am here now because my enemy’s enemy is a friend,” he said.