Analysis'There are no limits to cooperation'

UAE and Israel deal opens doors to business

From coronavirus cooperation to oil sales: The key areas where the Jewish state and its new Arab partner share economic interests

Two men play backgammon while smoking a shisha water pipe at a restaurant overlooking the canal and the Dubai Marina neighborhood in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)
Two men play backgammon while smoking a shisha water pipe at a restaurant overlooking the canal and the Dubai Marina neighborhood in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE and Israel are opening their doors to a wide range of business opportunities after the surprise agreement to normalize relations.

The two states have long forged commercial and technology links, but with the arrival of a joint US-Israeli delegation on Monday they can now work out in the open.

“We came here to transform a vision into a reality. There are no limits to cooperation… in education, innovation, health, aviation, agriculture, energy and many other fields,” National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat said in Abu Dhabi.

Here are some key areas where Israel and its new Arab partner share economic interests:

COVID-19 research

The two already collaborate on research in various fields and even before the deal was announced on August 13, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was working with the United Arab Emirates on ways to combat coronavirus.

“It seems as if the immediate priority will be cooperation on research and development to combat COVID-19,” said Kristian Ulrichsen from Rice University’s Baker Institute in the United States.

Israeli troops operate a laboratory to test soldiers for the coronavirus on March 23, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

“This could be a popular way of normalizing people, both in Israel and the UAE, to the idea that coordination on such an urgent issue is in the greater good of both countries,” Ulrichsen posed.

Last month, two Israeli companies signed a deal with an Emirati firm to work together on the development of a non-invasive coronavirus screening test.

Oil sales

The Gulf state’s immense oil reserves are a big draw for Israel, whose best source of oil currently is Kurdish crude from Iraq, said Ellen R. Wald, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center.

A fisherman prepares his boat near an oil storage tank in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

“Israel would benefit greatly if it can purchase UAE oil, and the UAE will benefit if it can sell to a hungry customer,” she said.

Gulf Arab countries have always refused to sell oil to Israel, and so far no other governments in the region have followed the UAE move to establish ties.


Expanding two-way tourism is a key focus of the post-accord trade push.

With some popular majority-Muslim tourism destinations currently off-limits to Israelis, the millions who go abroad each year typically head to Europe or the US.

Now those travelers will be able to take a short flight to the resorts and attractions that line the Emirati coast.

A man walks past the Dome of the Rock, in the Temple Mount compound, in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND/AFP)

Israel also wants to lure business for its own tourism industry, especially to the Mediterranean metropolis of Tel Aviv, and to attract Muslim visitors to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Tech and start-ups

Israel’s high-tech sector — an industry that has earned it the nickname “start-up nation” — makes up more than 40 percent of the country’s exports.

Concept art showcasing the Israeli pavilion at the upcoming Expo 2020 in Dubai. (Screenshot)

The UAE has forged a similar reputation, with more than a third of start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa reported to be based in the country, which seeks to be a powerhouse in the technology sector.

The UAE, especially the glitzy emirate of Dubai, attracts such companies because of its accommodating environment, with government support and investment.

The US-backed deal also provides a new destination for Emirati investment funds at a time when the UAE economy has stalled in recent years.

Water and food security

The arid UAE is dependent on desalinated water, with its needs ever-increasing, while Israel is home to world-leading desalination firms including IDE Technologies, which has 400 plants in 40 countries.

Since the UAE-Israel deal, the two countries have agreed to open a direct channel and “collaborate in areas of food and water security.” according to official Emirati news agency WAM.

Another area is smart farming, as the UAE — home to nine million people with varied tastes, but with little arable land and extreme temperatures — wants to overcome its dependence on food imports.

An AquaMaof indoor fish farm (Photo credit: AquaMaof/Yair Kachel PR)
An indoor fish farm of the Israeli company AquaMaof Aquaculture Technologies. (AquaMaof/Yair Kachel PR)

“There are opportunities in medical and agricultural technologies, and scope for coordination in startups and innovation policy,” said Ulrichsen.

Collaboration in agriculture could “later make it easier to expand the scope of cooperation into more overtly political and diplomatic arenas,” he added.

Security and surveillance

Israeli cyber surveillance firms are eyeing the market in the Gulf, where they are already believed to be doing business with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain — all staunch US allies.

An Israeli woman uses her phone in front of a building in Herzliya that housed the NSO Group intelligence firm, August 28, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP/File)

Israel is home to several leading surveillance companies, including spyware firm NSO Group which developed the sophisticated eavesdropping Pegasus tool.

Its use was detected against Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Abu Dhabi has never commented on the matter.

The UAE is also a base for security, surveillance and data analysis companies, and it has set up a formidable “Falcon Eye” security monitoring system.

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