The 'Seed Round' of UAE-Israel Cooperation

By Dorian Barak

Published: Thu 28 Jan 2021, 3:26 PM

Israelis will remember 2020 differently than most other nations. In a year marked by an unprecedented worldwide health crisis, human tragedy and economic hardship, Israel - together with its new partners in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - opened a new chapter in their collective history, one which will forever change the Middle East. Indeed, the Abraham Accords, spearheaded by the UAE and Israel with United States support, transformed a year of darkness into one of the most hopeful in decades for Israelis.



As the novelty of these dramatic changes begins to fade, Emiratis, Israelis and others in the region have begun to ask what, in practice, the Abraham Accords mean for the economies of the Middle East - and specifically the UAE and Israel, the region's most dynamic. Judging from the experience of the UAE-Israel Business Council (UIBC), which I founded last June together with Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the answer is this: more than we could have ever imagined.

Over the past few months, the UIBC has literally received thousands of enquiries from Emiratis and Israelis - businesspeople, professionals, entrepreneurs, government officials and others - eager to build business and personal ties with their 'new' neighbours. We've built a community of over 4,000 Israeli and Emirati members and followers, many of whom meet regularly with each other on webinars, Zoom meetings, virtual roundtables and, when the skies are open, in person. Over 50,000 Israelis flocked to Dubai in December, including thousands from Israel's technology ecosystem who came to attend the GITEX Conference or to establish relationships with Emirati technology companies, investors and industrial firms. Hundreds of Israeli businesses have already begun to establish operations in the UAE, understanding the country's position as a gateway to the Greater Middle East, Asia and Africa.

From an Israeli perspective, no sector stands to gain more than Israel's world-class technology ecosystem, which encompasses over 6,000 startups and has produced companies such as Mobileye, Waze, Viber, Mellanox and many other household names. For the first time, the 'Start-Up Nation' has an opportunity to bring to the region its unique capabilities in the fields of water, energy, renewables, biotech, agriculture, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The UAE, with Dubai as its commercial centre, offers Israelis a regional hub with unparalleled transport and logistics infrastructure, financial services capabilities and human capital.

While 2020 was a banner year for Israeli tech, with $10 billion raised over 400 financings, and many acquisitions of Israeli companies by global leaders such as Intel, 2020 will also likely go down as a year of pivot, with Israeli companies increasingly focusing on the Greater Middle East, South Asia and further eastward, as the United States and Europe focused on unprecedented economic challenges in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. The UAE is critical to this pivot and will become the gateway for Israelis in the region. Both countries will gain from this trend.

When travel resumes, Israel, too, will experience a flood of Emirati and Bahraini visitors. They will flock to Jerusalem and the beaches of Tel Aviv, yes, but also to the technology hubs of Herzliya, Raanana, and Jerusalem's Har Hotzvim, where they will find eager partners for projects in their home countries and beyond. With time, Gulf-based investors and businesses will join Americans and Europeans as integral parts of the Israeli ecosystem, which has always featured an outsized share of foreign involvement. Additionally, Gulf-sponsored initiatives will begin to take shape among Israel's Arab sector, which encompasses a significant and growing number of engineers, health care professionals, and programmers. As my co-founder, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, has said in these pages, Jerusalem's population is nearly 40-percent Arabic-speaking, and a natural source of talent and skills for technology companies across the region.

Like any ambitious initiative, the Abraham Accords will take time, energy and resources to develop the enormous potential it offers. In the summer of 2020, the visionary leaders of our region founded a new Middle East built on hope, common interests and shared opportunities. But this new relationship is still very much a startup. To borrow an expression from Israel's startup lexicon, 2021 will be the 'Seed Round' of our new partnership.

 


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