UAE source: Freezing oil transport deal may damage relations

Israel’s new UAE envoy called oil deal with Abu Dhabi a ‘security danger’

Amir Hayek has slammed aspects of normalization deal, mocking US sale of F-35 jets and panning former gov’t for allowing Israelis to attend ‘mass COVID-spreading parties in Dubai’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Amir Hayek. (Smadar Cafri)
Amir Hayek. (Smadar Cafri)

Israel’s new permanent ambassador to the United Arab Emirates has over the past year repeatedly voiced opposition to some aspects of the normalization agreement between the countries, tweeting on one occasion that an oil transport deal with Abu Dhabi endangered the Jewish state’s security.

Amir Hayek has also mocked the US sale of F-35 fighter jets to the Gulf country and retweeted a remark that said the previous government had allowed Israeli tourists to take part in “mass COVID-spreading parties in Dubai.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday announced Hayek’s appointment to the position, which has thus far been filled on a temporary basis by Eitan Na’eh.

Hayek is the president of the Israel Hotel Association. He previously headed the Manufacturers Association of Israel and was director-general of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.

Hayek is a political appointee by Lapid, indicating the UAE-Israel relationship is a top-level priority for the foreign minister.

But Israeli media quickly delved into the social media history of Hayek, a supporter of Lapid and his Yesh Atid party and a staunch critic of the previous government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amid nonstop criticism of the Netanyahu government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its move vis-a-vis Abu Dhabi, Hayek’s active Twitter page includes several comments hostile to the UAE.

One such remark from October 2020 mocked the deal in which then-US president Donald Trump agreed to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, in a move that has been linked by various officials to the normalization deal.

“Sometimes I have a feeling — an F-35 is something everyone will eventually have at home,” Hayek tweeted.

He retweeted a comment by then-opposition MK Ayelet Shaked, currently the interior minister, that criticized the former government for allowing Israeli tourists to visit the UAE while hotels in Israel had to stay closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Mass COVID-spreading parties in Dubai without purple badge rules and without tests upon arrival, and in Israel the hotels are closed,” Shaked wrote in the post retweeted by Hayek.

Purple badge had been the name of Israel’s set of rules for as public spaces reopened, which limited crowds and mandated a two-meter distance between people.

Israelis who had returned from Dubai queue to receive exemptions from hotel quarantine at Ben Gurion Airport, December 28, 2020. (Screen Capture: Channel12)

Hayek voiced frequent criticism of Israel’s policies regarding travel to the UAE, arguing that the government was being too lenient during the pandemic for political reasons following the normalization deal.

Another comment referred to an Israel-UAE oil transport deal as a “security danger” and an “ecological danger.”

That tweet, on May 10, came after Israel’s state-owned Europe Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) reached an agreement that would see Gulf oil brought to the Red Sea port of Eilat by tanker, then moved by pipeline through Israel to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, from where it would be shipped to Europe.

“The EAPC signed a deal with the Emirates,” Hayek tweeted on May 9. “The deal includes the transportation of immense amounts of oil through Eilat and Ashkelon. And who wasn’t updated? The infrastructure ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry. And who will be in danger? All of us. And why was there no orderly discussion? No reason. Because there are no orderly discussions and groundwork. This is unnecessary… stop it now!”

While Hayek’s primary criticism was related to environmental concerns, the follow-up tweet went further: “Another commission of inquiry. An ecological danger, a security danger. But who cares???”

The Europe Asia Pipeline Company’s oil boom in Eilat, designed to catch any potential oil spill before it leaks more broadly into the sea. (Courtesy EAPC)

This week, the Environmental Protection Ministry said it was delaying implementation of the project.

On Monday, the Israel Hayom daily quoted an anonymous senior source in Abu Dhabi warning that the freeze “could definitely damage the relations being formed with the Israeli government and Israeli commercial companies.”

The source said canceling the deal would be “a violation of all the mutual economic agreements signed in the Abraham Accords,” adding that UAE companies “will think hard on whether to do business with Israeli government-owned companies when they know there is a reasonable chance that the signed deal will be canceled. We don’t intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, but it is clear to us that this is a step driven by political considerations.”

Commenting on the reports about Hayek’s past tweets, the foreign minister’s office said: “The days in which positions in the country were determined by tweets and Facebook stalking are over. All positions will be determined by professional criteria.”

Israel and the UAE signed a US-brokered normalization agreement at the White House on September 15, 2021. That move was followed by agreements to work toward normalization with Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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