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Israel Looks For More Ties With Gulf States

May 18, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at the White House. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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President Trump to fly directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel

If all goes according to plan next week, President Trump will get on a plane in Saudi Arabia and land a few hours later at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. It will be the first time this flight has been done, at least publicly, and showed a change in the Gulf states when it comes to Israel.

While there have been business ties between Israeli and companies in the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain for years, these often involved routing the goods through a US address, and removing any identifying marks in Hebrew.

Simon Glass (not his real name) lived in Israel for 25 years and worked for an Israeli medical supply company that sold its products in the Gulf.

“The company had a PO Box in the US and was registered there, but the distributor knew we were an Israeli company and the product was Israeli,” Glass told the Media Line. “We were careful to make sure that the labeling was right and didn’t say “made in Israel.” It was all pretty open but they (the customers) didn’t like to have it rubbed in their faces that it was made in Israel.”

He would travel often to the area, and said he was often asked if he was Jewish, although not Israeli. He said Jews were seen as being smart, but also greedy. He often heard anti-Semitic expressions.

“I once heard a guy say “we really hate the Shi’ites, but they’re great at killing Jews,” he said. “To be fair, that guy was a Palestinian.”

In fact, he said, many of those working in the Gulf and running businesses there are Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese who might harbor more anti-Israel feelings than those from the UAE or Kuwait.

In 2015, Israel opened an interest section in the United Arab Emirates, and there are extensive business ties between Israel and the Gulf countries valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. The Emirates reportedly uses Israeli technology to secure their oil wells. Israeli media reports even claim that the Israeli army has offered to sell Saudi Arabia their famous Iron Dome technology, which Israel uses to stop rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia reportedly wanted the technology to defend Saudi territory from rockets from Yemen.

Israel is keen to have closer relations with all of the Gulf countries. Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic relations. And yet, recently Saudi officials have been willing to meet Israeli officials publicly. General Yaakov Amidror, a former senior advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met last year with former Saudi intelligence Chief Prince Turki al-Feisal in Washington.

“He said “the day that you reach an agreement with the Palestinians or resume the negotiations we can change the Middle East. There is nothing that can stop the combination of the Israeli money and Saudi Arabia mind,” Amidror told The Media Line. “The Saudis are looking for help to contain Islamic State and Iran.”

Amidror said that without any progress on the Palestinian track, it will not be possible for Israel to establish full diplomatic relations with any of the Gulf states. What is not clear is how much progress will be needed.

In any case, since the Arab Spring in 2011, interests in the Middle East shifted, and both Israel and Saudi Arabia are most concerned about Iran, which supports Hizbullah in south Lebanon against Israel, and the Houthis in Yemen against Saudi Arabia.

“There is a mutual interest in more contacts and they are becoming more and more open,” Emily Landau, an expert at the INSS think tank told The Media Line. “The background is clearly the Iranian threat.”

Gulf countries are especially concerned about Iran. That, combined with growing business ties, could eventually lead to Israel having open commercial relations with all of these countries.

 

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