September 15, 2020 – a momentous day for the UAE and for Israel, the day the two nations normalised relations with the historic signing of the Abraham Accords. This is a day that will be remembered as the coming together of two like-minded powerhouses, resolute in their desire for cooperation and progress.
In a tumultuous year marked by exceptional events and unexpected twists, it is a date inked with a common cause of fresh thinking, a new approach and a fervent ambition for the betterment and prosperity of humanity. The development allowed the nations to begin conversations and forge new connections, partnerships and friendships, building a solid foundation for progress.
Just over a year has elapsed, yet what has been achieved in this time has been nothing short of incredible. The two sides have embraced each other with a level of openness almost unseen anywhere else.
Much of the engagement with Israel has been led by the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. This is an emirate that believes with complete certainty in the power of innovation to drive progress and sees Israel as a compatible partner to fulfil its vision.
Here are the three factors that have characterised cooperation between these markets, ensuring that the initial exploration has been able to bloom into truly meaningful partnerships:
Spirit of openness
Almost immediately after the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, announced the UAE's agreement to normalise relations with Israel, a flurry of exchanges between people, companies and government entities from Abu Dhabi and Israel began. Many of these interactions were organic, a mix of coordinated and uncoordinated efforts to build commercial ties from the get-go. This was the realisation of simmering interest from both sides.
Within a month of the Abraham Accords, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) signed a cooperation agreement with the Israel Export Institute to establish bilateral trade. Less than three months following the signing of the Accords, the first official delegation to the UAE, Beyond Business, created an unprecedented opportunity for both sides to connect. Organised by Israel’s Bank Hapoalim and its partners, the mission was so successful that a second edition was arranged. Taking place from October 16-20, 2021, Beyond Business 2 brought the largest ever delegation from Israel to Abu Dhabi.
It is worth noting that these events transpired in the midst of global uncertainty wrought by Covid-19, demonstrating the hunger and determination of those in Abu Dhabi and Israel to come together.
Speed of progress
Since embarking on this journey, the level of engagement between Abu Dhabi and Israel has surpassed expectations. The speed of progress is a testament to the people and entities on both sides keen to make their own mark in history. The UAE and Israel have signed more than 60 memoranda of understanding since the normalisation of relations.
Multi-billion-dollar projects have been announced between the two markets. Notably, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company purchased Delek's Tel Aviv-listed stake in an Israeli gas field as part of a $ 1 billion deal. When the sale concluded, it was the biggest business agreement since the normalisation.
Spark of innovation
Innovation is borderless, and in two markets where the pursuit of science, technology and research takes precedence, the potential upside of collaboration is limitless. Under the banner of innovation, Abu Dhabi and Israel are coming together for the common good, connecting the brightest minds in science, technology and research to uncover solutions that can benefit our region and beyond. This is the true hallmark of innovation.
Abu Dhabi has world-class infrastructure and support for innovation, while Israel is known globally as the ‘Startup nation’. There is much to gain from sharing and exchanging expertise, knowledge and R&D. Upon maturity, many of these solutions could be exported to the rest of the world.
Already, the seed of private sector cooperation has begun to take root, with discussions between companies in sectors ranging from agtech to aviation, from conservation to cybertech, and from education to energy. Abu Dhabi’s G42, for example, has announced a number of partnerships with Israeli companies. It is collaborating with NanoScent to develop a test that detects Covid-19 from exhaled air, and with Rafael advanced defence systems to form a new joint venture that will commercialise artificial intelligence and big data solutions for multiple sectors.
With the foundations of the relationship firmly in place, what is needed is an enabling environment to take these partnerships from potential to fulfilment. And this can be found in Abu Dhabi, which has invested heavily in nurturing the private sector as part of its diversification strategy. The government is unwavering in its mission to ensure that doing business in the emirate is as easy as possible.
The Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development recently announced 1,105 activities in which non-citizens or foreign companies are permitted 100 per cent foreign ownership, further simplifying the process of setting up and operating a business. The move promotes an open, flexible and business-friendly environment across sectors, demonstrating a commitment to providing companies with the optimum conditions they need to operate.
The government also reduced requirements to set up a business by 71 per cent and decreased business setup fees by 94 per cent. The reduced time and costs make it significantly easier to start commercial operations in Abu Dhabi and help companies be more competitive.
These developments mean that Israeli investors can establish, own and operate in one of the region’s most competitive markets with greater certainty and optimism.
As an additional boost, the Abu Dhabi government established business enablers to provide companies with need-based support. Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem houses more than a hundred enterprising startups from all sectors and provides financial incentives to help them setup and grow. A number of accelerators, including startAD, Plug and Play Abu Dhabi and Techstars, provide startups with mentorship, access to network, funding and growth opportunities. Abu Dhabi also has five free zones that offer a range of industry-specific provisions and advantages.
Offering the gamut of services for investors across all sectors and sizes is ADIO. As the central government hub enabling private sector investment in Abu Dhabi, it provides support and incentives to help businesses achieve long-term, sustainable success in the market and across the region. Following the announcement of ADIO’s memorandum of understanding with Israel Export Institute, it has gone on to sign formal cooperation agreements with several innovation and investment bodies to accelerate collaboration. In September 2020, ADIO announced that it would open its first international office in Israel, bringing it closer than ever to Israeli investors and helping them identify opportunities in Abu Dhabi.
Welcoming even more Israeli partners to experience all that the Abu Dhabi has to offer is one of the key models for this partnership, and this is backed up by the government’s relentless support for the private sector.
The relationship between the two markets is still in its early stages, but if current momentum is at all indicative of future trajectory, it is expected that transformation will take place on a scale never seen before in the region.