UAE Israel
The UAE, Israeli and US flags sway in the wind at the Abu Dhabi airport at the arrival of the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE, on August 31, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: Ambassador Eitan Na’eh, Israel’s first Head of Mission to the UAE, underscored the significant regional impact of growing people-to-people ties between the two countries.

Ambassador Na’eh expressed, during a US-UAE Business Council webinar on Tuesday, the genuine excitement around the historic Abraham Accords.

He said: “I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real.” Emphasizing the importance of people-to-people exchanges, he said the Accords have not only allowed for direct flights between the two countries, but also the “normalisation of relationships".

Israel is now “setting the groundwork for legal frameworks for the relationship,” including in double taxation, free trade, health, the environment, and communications. Remarking on these nascent frameworks, he said: “You name it, we are already in one or the other phase of negotiation,” noting that the UAE and Israel are moving “full speed ahead” on issues in which they have “common ground.”

He also noted the importance of this cooperation for the entire Middle East region and that Israel is meeting the rest of the region today in the UAE.

Dayle Carden, Managing Partner at the Elliott Barrett Group, echoed Ambassador Na’eh’s sentiments about the significance of the Abraham Accords. She explained that after 15 years in government, most of it spent in the Middle East, “to say that the announcement of the Abraham Accords was an exciting moment is an understatement.”

Carden is now working to “bring the spirit of the agreement to a reality.”

She also expressed her excitement about the business opportunities for both countries that have emerged from the agreement and the potential for expanded US-UAE-Israel trilateral cooperation.

Conversation then turned to one of the first areas in which the fruits of normalisation have been realized: tourism. Already, over 100,000 Israelis have visited Dubai, and direct flights on FlyDubai, El Al, Wizz Air, and Etihad are connecting the two countries. Ambassador Na’eh stated that such exchange has “opened the eyes of people in the region to the possibilities and to the potential” of what may result from following the lead of the UAE.

Ambassador Na’eh went on to describe the UAE as a “meeting place” for business people and individuals from the entire region.

Ambassador Na’eh added that his presence in the UAE has allowed for dialogue with Palestinians, Iraqis, Kuwaitis and others about “not just the narratives of the past, but about the future and how we can both contribute to peace” by “building relationships.

“This, Ambassador Na’eh underscored, is one of the most exciting aspects of his work and a major achievement of the Abraham Accords. He explained that people want peace and want change. Because this “change is coming from the bottom,” a new model for peacemaking is emerging and will have “ripple effects” across the Middle East and the world.

Transitioning to the business opportunities emerging from the Abraham Accords, Ambassador Na’eh listed agriculture, water, medtech, AI, cybertech, and fintech as areas of cooperation. He explained that while Israel brings knowledge and expertise in agtech and water, there remains much to be learned from the Emiratis in this space. In the medtech field, Ambassador Na’eh commented, the UAE serves as an important regional hub. And, in the cybertech and fintech spaces, the UAE serves as an ideal location for companies to “scale and expand through the Middle East region.”

He repeated the adage that while Israel is the region’s “startup nation,” the UAE is the regional “scale-up nation.”

Carden added that US companies also have the potential to make major contributions to economic growth through trilateral business relations.

Ambassador Na’eh then zoomed in on cooperation in the health sector and life sciences. He recognised the rapid pace of vaccination efforts and the life science expertise in both Israel and the UAE as key factors paving the way for successful partnerships.

Ambassador Na’eh pointed to an ongoing Israeli life sciences delegation in the UAE as an example of ongoing cooperation in the space. He also noted that COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of medicine, particularly remote medicine, hybrid medicine, and the digitisation of medicine and that discussions between the UAE and Israel continue in this regard. Moreover, he explained that collaboration is taking place at the research level as well, with student exchanges and joint training. He remarked that “we are just at the beginning” of exchange in this critical vertical.

Expo Dubai is one avenue that is poised to accelerate such exchange. Ambassador Na’eh noted that Israel had planned to set up a pavilion even in advance of the signing of the Abraham Accords. This venue, he said, will allow Israel to showcase its innovative solutions and capabilities. Israel will also work with the UAE government on special programming.

Danny Sebright, President of the US-UAE Business Council announced that the Council will organise trilateral US-UAE-Israel programming at Expo to highlight the important ways, in which the three countries can together advance innovation and economic growth.

Ambassador Na’eh noted the magnitude of developing Israel-UAE ties. He explained, “A window of opportunity has been opened,” and he hopes that as governments and as people, “we are up to the task” and “creative enough” to embrace “new structures and new thinking about the Middle East.”