After 20 Years of Relations Under the Radar, Israeli Mission in Abu Dhabi Is Set for an Upgrade

Meanwhile, Israeli foreign minister talks with counterparts in three additional Arab countries following conversations with foreign minister's of Oman and UAE

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Israeli and UAE flags fly in Netanya, August 16, 2020.
Israeli and UAE flags fly in Netanya, August 16, 2020.Credit: NIR ELIAS/Reuters
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

For over 20 years, Israel has carried out secret diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, which became permanently visible last week. The Israeli Foreign Ministry is now preparing to upgrade the Israeli mission in Abu Dhabi to an official embassy. 

Until now the mission was located there under cover as a part of the UN International Renewable Energy Agency.

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In addition to Mossad activities in the area, the Foreign Ministry has been very active in the Persian Gulf in the past two decades, and maintains contact with government officials, unofficial figures and business firms. Over the past several years, there has been a spike in the number of visits by official Israeli delegations to the Gulf. If four delegations visited the UAE between 2016 and 2018, 15 delegations made such trips in 2019 alone. These figures also don’t include businesspeople who traveled independently.

The mission  was upgraded in October 2017 to the status of a permanent and recognized representation, complete with diplomatic passports and an Israeli flag inside the UN office. 

The ministry has helped some 500 Israeli companies operate in the UAE. Every week, approximately 10 Israeli firms ask for assistance in making contact with local companies there. The ministry has also hosted visits by UAE businesspeople in Israel.

A ministry representative at the Israel Export Institute helps connect Israeli firms with Gulf companies, with the most common areas of cooperation being water, technology, agriculture, health, homeland security and cyber technology. The ministry handles 20 joint projects estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Both Israel and the UAE are eyeing greater cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, Abu Dhabi’s Group 42 and Israel’s Rafael signed a deal to develop fast coronavirus tests at airports. On the sidelines of the deal last week, the UAE's APEX and Israel's Tera Group also announced a joint venture in coronavirus research and development

Israel is also investing significant amounts of money to establish an Israeli pavilion at the Dubai Expo, which was postponed to October 2021. It is expected to draw a crowd of about 25 million visitors.

In a press briefing Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said he has spoken with his counterparts in three unknown Arab countries in the last week, hinting again at the fact that the UAE deal could foreshadow similar agreements with other nations.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in northern Israel, August 2020.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in northern Israel, August 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu

This is in addition to already published calls with the foreign ministers of the UAE and Oman.

The prime minister kept Ashkenazi and his Kahol Lavan colleague, Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Gantz, in the dark about the UAE deal, arguing in an interview that "they could speak uncontrollably" and he feared leaks.

Differences and turf wars within the Israeli executive has threatened to delay the talks surrounding the normalization agreement, with several agencies vying for taking the lead in negotiations with the UAE.

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