The first Emirati astronaut brought an Israeli flag with him when he traveled to the International Space Station in 2019, the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Alon Ushpiz said in a tweet that Hazzaa al-Mansoori gifted the flag to Israeli officials during a visit this week to the Israeli pavilion at the Expo 2020 in Dubai.
Photos posted by Ushpiz showed al-Mansoori with a small, framed Israeli flag.
“This is a gift for all Israelis,” al-Mansoori said at the pavilion, according to the Ynet news site.
“I am happy to be here and to give the Israeli flag as a gift to the people here and to the public in Israel,” he said.
The astronaut’s trip — the first by an Arab to the International Space Station — came nearly a year before Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize diplomatic ties as part of the United States-backed Abraham Accords.
This morning we hosted a very dear & special guest at the Israel pavilion at @ExpoDubai2021, the first Emirati astronaut. @astro_hazzaa gifted us with an Israeli flag he took with him on his first mission to the International Space Station. Thank you (& may the force be with you) pic.twitter.com/DGdgXzJmSG
— Alon Ushpiz (@AlonUshpiz) December 23, 2021
In October, Israel and the United Arab Emirates finalized an agreement to collaborate on a number of space projects, including a joint launch of the “Beresheet 2” mission to the moon, Israel’s attempt — its second — to land an unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface by 2024, when the countries expect to plant their flags alongside each other.
The United Arab Emirates Space Agency also signed a deal at the time with the Israel Space Agency to enhance cooperation in scientific research, space exploration, and knowledge transfer and to conduct joint research based on information from the “VENµS” microsatellite launched in 2017, a collaboration between Israel and France.
Those agreements were the latest step forward in the burgeoning relationship between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi since the signing of the Abraham Accords. The agreements created a buzz of excitement regarding the potential for economic cooperation, particularly in technology.
The Beresheet 2 mission is being coordinated by Israeli non-governmental organization SpaceIL which said in a statement that the agreement with the UAE “created a model for cooperation between the two peoples in many aspects — technological, scientific and educational — which will deepen the connection between the countries and serve as inspiration for further cooperation between Israel and other Arab countries.”
The UAE has its own successful space program, launching the “Amal,” or “Hope,” space probe to Mars earlier this year.