Israel stayed away from UAE arms fair ‘for fear Iran would target its delegates’

While COVID was cited as official reason for cancelation in this week’s Abu Dhabi event, TV says decision was taken by security establishment

Buyers and sellers pictured on the opening day of the International Defence Exhibition Conference, IDEX, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Buyers and sellers pictured on the opening day of the International Defence Exhibition Conference, IDEX, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Israel canceled its participation in this week’s Abu Dhabi arms fair because of fears that its delegates would be targeted for assassination by Iran, a television report said.

The Israeli delegation was to have included the heads of Israel’s major defense companies, seeking lucrative contracts and underlining the newly normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The biennial International Defense Exhibition and Conference, or IDEX, long has been the largest defense showcase in the Middle East. This year’s event was the first time that Israel had been invited.

The Defense Ministry announced on February 15 that the Israeli delegation would not attend after all, however, citing coronavirus restrictions that have forced the closure of Ben Gurion Airport.

This was only a pretext, Channel 12 news reported Saturday night. In fact, Israel canceled its participation because of fears that its delegates would be targeted by Iran — seeking to avenge a series of attacks attributed to Israel in which Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed and nuclear facilities sabotaged. In the most high-profile such incident recently, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the alleged father of Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program, was killed outside Tehran in November in an attack widely attributed to Israel.

The TV report said the UAE authorities were told the true reason for the cancelation, and accepted it without rancor. It said the decision to cancel was taken by “the security establishment,” and was not a source of dispute between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The Helios Ray, which was sailing from Saudi Arabia to Singapore, arrives at Dubai port after being hit in the Gulf of Oman, February 27, 2021 ( screenshot)

The report added that Friday’s attack on an Israeli-owned cargo vessel in the Gulf of Oman is regarded in the Israeli security establishment as likely the work of Iran, and evidence of its no-holds-barred efforts for revenge against Israel. It is also thought to be an attempt to signal to US President Joe Biden that while it wants to return to the 2015 P5+1 nuclear deal, it seeks to do so “on its own terms.”

There was no confirmation of the TV report from the Defense Ministry.

Dozens of Israeli companies, including state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, had planned on sending delegations to the IDEX arms fair.

The Defense Ministry, which oversees weapons exports, said it sought permission to allow the delegation to travel, but a governmental committee that grants exemptions allowing people to fly denied the request.

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport is closed to nearly all incoming and outgoing flights.

The empty arrival hall at Ben Gurion Airport on February 3, 2021 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Arms deals worth billions of dollars are announced during the five-day event in Abu Dhabi, frequently attended by the UAE’s rulers and other world leaders.

Hundreds of military technology companies and contractors from around the world converge in the UAE’s capital to sell everything from armored vehicles to missiles and drones at the exhibition, which draws potential customers from the Middle East and North Africa.

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