Israeli team races in UAE cycling tour in sporting overture
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Israeli team races in UAE cycling tour in sporting overture

Participation ’emblematic of how cycling can be a force for diplomatic openness and progress,’ says co-owner of Israel Start-Up Nation team Sylvan Adams

Israel Start-Up Nation cycling team members pose before the start of the first stage of the UAE Tour from the Pointe to Silicon Oasis in Dubai on February 23, 2020. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)
Israel Start-Up Nation cycling team members pose before the start of the first stage of the UAE Tour from the Pointe to Silicon Oasis in Dubai on February 23, 2020. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

An Israeli cycling team raced through Dubai on Sunday, taking part in the UAE Tour for the first time in the latest overture between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations.

Gulf Arab nations have made a number of recent moves hinting at warmer ties with the Jewish state, with Israeli athletes and officials increasingly allowed to visit.

“Israel Start-Up Nation will make history on Sunday by competing in the UAE Tour, becoming the first Israeli team to participate in the Middle East’s top cycling race,” the team said in a statement.

“The participation in this race by our Israeli team in a Middle Eastern nation is emblematic of how cycling can be a force for diplomatic openness and progress,” its co-owner Sylvan Adams said.

Israel Start-Up Nation cycling team members pose before the start of the first stage of the UAE Tour in Dubai on February 23, 2020. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

Like all Arab countries, except for Jordan and Egypt, the United Arab Emirates has no official relations with Israel.

But Israel Start-Up Nation’s members, with their country’s name emblazoned on their blue and white shirts, posed on stage before the week-long race kicked off in Dubai.

Members of Israel’s cytcling team are seen in the United Arab Emirates, February 22, 2020 (Courtesy)

“I’m very excited, it’s a nice country. We come here with a good team,” Israeli cyclist Omer Goldstein told AFP ahead of the race.

“It’s special that I’ve arrived here because normally Israelis cannot (come) to this country… I invite all the Israelis to this country.”

The team members said they were surprised by the warm reception they received in the UAE, where expatriates make up about 90 percent of the population.

“After the initial shock to see the ‘Israel Startup Nation logo,’ some of them waved with friendly smiles and even asked for selfies,” the team said after a visit to a Dubai cycling park.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, center, presents a gold medal to Israeli Sagi Muki after his win at the International Judo Federation competition in Abu Dhabi, October 28, 2018. (International Judo Federation)

Israel has been quietly moving closer to some Gulf Arab countries on the basis of shared security interests and a common rival — Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Oman in 2018, frequently voices confidence that a decades-old Arab boycott is thawing.

Since then there have been other milestones in relations with the Gulf nations.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev toured the UAE’s famed Sheikh Zayed mosque, former communications minister Ayoub Kara delivered a speech in Dubai, and the Israeli national anthem was played at a judo competition in Abu Dhabi when an Israeli athlete won.

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