Israeli race drivers traveled to Saudi Arabia to compete in Dakar Rally

Participating under Belgian, US flags, some team members reportedly entered kingdom on Israeli passports, despite official ban on travelers from the Jewish state

Illustrative: France's rider Pierre Cherpin, 52, competes during the Stage 2 of the Dakar 2021, on January 4, 2021. (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)
Illustrative: France's rider Pierre Cherpin, 52, competes during the Stage 2 of the Dakar 2021, on January 4, 2021. (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

Israeli drivers traveled to Saudi Arabia to take part in this week’s Dakar Rally, despite a ban on Israeli travelers to the kingdom.

Two of the drivers, Danny Pearl and Charly Gotlib, were listed as representing Belgium and didn’t wear any identifying Israeli symbols. However, some members of their team entered the country on their Israeli passports and the Saudis were aware of their presence, according to Army Radio.

They were sponsored by MyHeritage, an Israeli online genealogy and DNA testing company, and finished in 29th place in the SSV category.

Israelis Aviv Kadshai, Izhar Armony and Maoz Vilder also participated under the US-flagged Team CRV. They came in 17th place in the trucking competition.

According to Army Radio, nine Israelis attended the event and returned to Israel on Saturday.

Argentinian’s biker Kevin Benavides celebrates his victory after winning the Dakar Rally 2021, at the end of the last stage between Yanbu and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on January 15, 2021. (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

The MyHeritage team was accompanied by Nirit Ofir, a research fellow at Haifa University’s Ezri Center for Gulf Studies, who shared photos from Saudi Arabia on her Facebook account. In one picture, she can be seen posing with Saleh Al Saif, a Saudi driver.

Dakar Rally Saudi Arabia 2021. So proud to be part of “MyHeritage Pearl” team????????

Posted by Nirit Ofir on Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Dakar Rally was held in South America from 2009 to 2019, and last year relocated to Saudi Arabia.

Israel has long had clandestine ties with Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years, as they have confronted a shared threat in Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to meet with the Saudi crown prince in Red Sea city of Neom on November 22, along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Since September, Israel has struck normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, with US officials saying a deal with Saudi Arabia is “inevitable.” Saudi officials, however, have said a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians must precede recognition of the Jewish state.

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