Israeli President’s visit emphasises new reality for the Middle East

Mohamed Al Khaja, UAE Ambassador to Israel, with Amir Hayek, Ambassador of Israel in the UAE.
Mohamed Al Khaja, UAE Ambassador to Israel, with Amir Hayek, Ambassador of Israel in the UAE.

The visit by President Isaac Herzog indicates that bilateral relations are flourishing and both sides are ready to enjoy the benefits of continued cooperation


Michal Michelle Divon

Published: Sun 30 Jan 2022, 10:46 AM

Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrives in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, marking the first-ever official visit by an Israeli president to the Gulf state.

Arriving at the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the President’s two-day visit will include meetings with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, senior government officials, and members of the growing Jewish community in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

For Herzog, this visit is a natural continuation as the President helped raise the UAE flag in Tel Aviv during the inauguration of the UAE Embassy in July of 2021. Herzog had taken office just one week earlier and described the historic event as a dream-turned reality after standing for both National Anthems, ‘Ishy Biladi’ and ‘Hatikvah’.

While the anticipated meeting between Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and President Herzog will be their first in-person encounter, it is not the first time the two leaders speak.

Since stepping into the role of President, Herzog and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed have spoken on several occasions; in the first phone call between the two leaders, President Herzog congratulated His Highness on the occasion of UAE’s Golden Jubilee, the two leaders spoke again when Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed called to offer condolences over the passing of Herzog’s mother, and most recently, Israeli president Herzog called Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed to express support for the UAE, and condemn the recent Houthi terrorist attacks on Abu Dhabi.

Herzog’s visit articulates the continued deepening of bilateral ties between the two countries and follows several other foundational milestones, including a first visit by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, A visit by Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a UAE ministerial-led business delegation to Tel Aviv, and the opening of respective diplomatic missions.

Celebrating nearly a year and a half of diplomatic ties, President Herzog will launch Israel National Day at Expo 2020 Dubai and is one of more than 26 heads of State to visit the global site.

Isaac Herzog, President of Israel, with Mohamed Al Khaja, UAE Ambassador to Israel, during the opening of the UAE Embassy in Tel Aviv in July 2021.
Isaac Herzog, President of Israel, with Mohamed Al Khaja, UAE Ambassador to Israel, during the opening of the UAE Embassy in Tel Aviv in July 2021.

Trade Boost

While significant diplomatic efforts are made at the state level, a visa waiver has already been signed to encourage tourism, and a free trade agreement is being finalized between both countries aiming to bolster business activity and further attract small and medium businesses (SME’s) who have largely been left out of the current trade flow.

According to data from the Israel Export Institute, trade between the two countries amounted to $1 billion at the years’ end, and officials are expecting bilateral trade to triple in the coming year, growing to $3 billion by 2023.

Other major projects include a joint space mission that includes cooperation on scientific research, space exploration, and knowledge transfer, joint defense projects that will develop counter drone systems, as well as agreements in the fields of health, education, agriculture, tech, and tourism.

Increasing Tourism

Over 200,000 Israeli tourists have already visited the United Arab Emirates, and Israel’s Ambassador to the UAE Amir Hayek says the Jewish state is ready and waiting to welcome visitors from the UAE.

UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed al Khaja and his Israeli counterpart Amir Hayek have been working closely together since Hayek’s appointment by Israel’s FM Yair Lapid. Most recently they helped secure a joint multi-million dollar R&D fund that was approved by Israel’s cabinet at the start of the New Year.

Designed to encourage collaboration in the sectors of tech and innovation, the fund will only be accessible to joint projects, partnerships, and strategies.

If year one of the Abraham Accords included building the foundation, learning about the other side and exploring potential business opportunities in the newly opened market, year two will focus on joint projects, mutual investments and further grassroots initiatives that will benefit both societies.

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