Israelis okayed to travel to Qatar for November’s World Cup in deal with FIFA

Despite lack of ties between Doha and Jerusalem, Israel says soccer fans holding match tickets will be granted entry; announcement makes no mention of security concerns

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

People gather around the official countdown clock showing remaining time until the kick-off of the World Cup 2022, in Doha, Qatar, November 25, 2021. (AP/Darko Bandic)
People gather around the official countdown clock showing remaining time until the kick-off of the World Cup 2022, in Doha, Qatar, November 25, 2021. (AP/Darko Bandic)

Israeli soccer fans will be able to travel to Qatar for the World Cup in November, despite the two nations having no formal diplomatic relations, Israel announced on Thursday after reaching a deal with world soccer body FIFA.

In a joint announcement from the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and culture and sport, Israel said its citizens — who ordinarily can only enter Qatar on a foreign passport — will be able to freely travel and attend games there during the upcoming tournament.

Under the terms of the deal reached with FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, Israelis seeking to attend must first purchase a ticket to a game, then apply online for a Fan ID card, approval of which grants its holder entry to Qatar and enables them to order accommodation.

Efforts are also being made to facilitate direct flights from Israel to the tiny Gulf nation, the announcement said.

There was no immediate comment from FIFA or Qatar, which in the past has said it would not block Israelis from attending the tournament.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the move “another diplomatic achievement that will warm the hearts of soccer fans.” The upcoming World Cup, which Israel’s team will not participate in, “opens a gate to new, warm relations,” said Lapid, referring to efforts to establish official ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed hope that “Israelis visiting [Qatar] will strengthen the bonds of understanding between citizens of the two countries.”

Australia fans cheer during the FIFA World Cup 2022 play-off qualifier game between UAE and Australia at Ahmad bin Ali stadium in Qatar’s Ar-Rayyan city on June 7, 2022. (Mustafa ABUMUNES / AFP)

Pressure on sporting tournaments has helped push new diplomatic horizons for Israel in the Gulf. In 2018, two years before agreeing to establish ties with Israel, Abu Dhabi began allowing the Israeli flag to be shown and anthem to be heard during sporting events, ending a longstanding policy it shared with most other Gulf states.

Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office from 1995 to 2000, but is seen as unlikely to join other Gulf states in establishing full ties with Israel due to its own relationship to Iran.

Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper noted that “sports have the power to cross continents and connect peoples and countries,” and welcomed the ability of Israelis to take part “in the biggest celebration of soccer in the world.”

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper at the Khan theatre in Jerusalem on February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thursday’s statement did not address security concerns about travel to Qatar, a nation with strong ties to both the West and Iran and the Hamas terror group.

In April, Israeli media reports indicated that the National Security Council was considering warning citizens against attending the World Cup amid fears that they could be targets for Iran or its proxies.

In recent weeks, Israel has sharpened its warnings to citizens traveling abroad over fears of a revenge attack for the assassination of senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official Hassan Sayyad Khodaei last month, widely attributed to Israel. A warning was specifically issued to all Israelis traveling or considering traveling to Turkey.

Until now, Israel has recommended against all non-essential travel to Qatar, setting a warning level for the country at 3 out of 4.

A view of the fence around the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center where soccer’s World Cup draw was held on April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

The Israel Hayom daily reported a month ago that more than 15,000 Israelis had already purchased tickets for the 2022 World Cup. Security is expected to be particularly high around the event, with more than a million avid soccer fans from around the world slated to flood the Gulf nation for the games in November and December.

Qatar said last month that it will only allow foreigners holding match tickets to enter the Gulf state during the World Cup tournament. And FIFA security director Helmut Spahn said last month that the greatest security challenge expected during the World Cup is crowd control, not terrorist threats.

In the past “we had terrorist attack threats prior to a World Cup, we had strikes of private security and police, we had problems sometimes with infrastructure at stadiums not being ready. This is not the case here,” Spahn said. The threat “is low and under control here in Qatar.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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