Israelis Are Doing Thriving but Discreet Business With Gulf States

When an Israeli with Saudi business ties was disinvited as a speaker to a London conference because a Saudi was to be present, the Israeli pointed out that the two are friends, Bloomberg business news reported.

Men look out of a building as the Kingdom Centre Tower is seen in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 1, 2017.
REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Israelis are doing a thriving business in some Arab countries that Israel doesn't have diplomatic relations with, in what the Bloomberg Business Week called "a logical coalescence of interests based on shared fears: of an Iranian bomb, jihadi terror, popular insurgency, and an American retreat from the region."

Bloomberg highlighted the case of Shmuel Bar, an Israeli terrorism expert and founder of IntuView, a deep data company that is engaged in scanning social media for terrorist threats. It sells its services to the police and border and intelligence agencies in Europe and the United States.

Bar told Bloomberg that two years ago, he received an email "out of the blue" from a senior Saudi official inviting him to discuss a possible project via Skype involving combatting terrorism, but Bar would have to use an middleman to obscure his company's Israeli identity.

That was not a problem for Bar, who, as Bloomberg recounted it, "went to work ferreting out Saudi jihadis with a software program called IntuScan, which can process 4 million Facebook and Twitter posts a day." Bar's work for his Saudi client later expanded to include public opinion research for the Saudi royal family, Bloomberg said. “It’s not as if I went looking for this,” Bar explained. “They came to me.”

The extent of Bar's ties to Saudi Arabia came to light when a London think tank sought to disinvite the Israeli as a panelist at a conference that would also be attended by a Saudi official. But the meeting organizers were set at ease when Bar told them that not only did he know the Saudi, they also had lunch plans for before the conference. The conference organizers "were out-Saudi-ing the Saudis,” Bar quipped.

Since the early 1990s, Israel has had trade offices in the Gulf states of Qatar and Oman, Bloomberg noted, and now has a diplomat stationed in Abu Dhabi credentialed to the International Renewable Energy Agency. "The office has the capacity to function as an embassy for Israel’s expanding ties in the Gulf," Bloomberg said.

The business ties with the Arab world are based on discretion, Bloomberg reported, citing the New Hampshire plant of an American subsidiary of Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems as an example. When customers from Kuwait, Qatar or Saudi Arabia visited the Elbit Systems of America, evidence of the company's connection to Israel and even Jewish names of employees were put out of view, according to former employee Richard Wolfe.

Elbit Systems of America told Bloomberg, however, that it is not company policy to hide the Elbit name or other ties with Israel.