Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has shared his thoughts on the growing ties between the UAE and Israel ahead of the new year in an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times. Let’s read the full story.
Following a year of cooperation in the fields of tech, health, agriculture, food and water security, tourism, defence, and space, ties between the two countries are flourishing.
With bilateral trade exceeding $1 billion, Israel’s foremost diplomat touched upon milestones following the Abraham Accords, the great progress in the relations between the two countries, and the mutual ambition to strengthen ties even more in the coming year.
What are the most significant milestones from this past year and what do you see as the next step for UAE-Israel relations?
It’s tough to settle on a single most significant milestone from the past year, which was historic in the relationship between our two countries. After all, barely a day goes by without a new agreement being signed, a new cooperation initiative being unveiled, or an historic official visit occurring and bringing our two countries closer together.
My trilateral meeting in Washington with my good friend Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was a truly historic event. And of course, there are the stories and memories of each and every one of the 300,000 Israelis who have visited the UAE in this last year, including those who visited the Israeli pavilion at the Expo in Dubai.
But if I had to identify a personal highlight, I would have to say my visit to Abu Dhabi and Dubai to open our new Embassy. The visit was not just historic for our countries, but it was personally meaningful for me to represent my country on such a momentous occasion.
What are the latest trade figures between the two countries and what industries are driving these numbers?
Total trade between our countries is now over $1 billion. And what’s unique about our trade relationship is that it’s truly cross-sectoral: it extends from agriculture and water, to environmental technology, to telecommunications, to medical and healthcare equipment, to fintech and more. And I must add that this number on its own doesn’t capture the full extent of our economic relationship: for example, not included in that $1 billion figure are the 300,000 Israelis who visited the uae and had an economic impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars as well as Mubadala’s acquisition of Delek’s share of the Tamar gas field ($1.2 billion). And all this has been achieved in just over a year of relations.
Where do you see the economic opportunities?
We have a strong trade relationship and robust tourism ties too. A major next step in our economic relationship is going to be increasing mutual investments, and that includes creating mechanisms for such investments specifically in small- and medium-sized tech companies.
In addition, Israeli and Emirati are already joining hands in developing new technologies for the benefit of future generations. We also have the potential to advance projects on the regional level, an example being the recent “green energy for water” agreement signed between Israel, the UAE and Jordan, which have not only economic benefits, but help promote regional stability.
When will the free trade agreement be finalised? What details can you share?
We’re putting a major emphasis on economic relations and their development as a core part of our overall bilateral relationship. To this end, we’ve already negotiated and signed our double taxation agreement this year. We’re now conducting negotiations towards a free trade agreement, which both Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and I have committed to conclude by the middle of 2022.
And by the way, the speed with which we’re conducting these agreements is a testament to the importance we place on the bilateral and economic relationship between our countries. These agreements routinely take a year and a half or more, and with the hard work of the dedicated, talented professionals at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we’re looking to conclude our negotiations in half that amount of time.
What will Israel do to attract Emirati tourists? When will Israel reopen?
As soon as conditions permit for safe travel to and from Israel, we’re eagerly waiting to welcome back tourists from around the world including the UAE.
I believe Israel’s combination of ancient cities with modern metropolises and beautiful natural sites will make it a favorite destination for tourists from the Emirates. Direct flights by three Israeli airlines as well as Emirati carriers will help turn this vision into a reality. As will our mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates, an agreement which we signed in late October.
Tourism is a really important aspect of our relationship because with tourism, comes the strengthening of people-to-people ties.
Are the UAE and Israel aligned when it comes to regional security? Approach to Iran/Iran talks?
As I said in Washington alongside Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Secretary of State Blinken, there’s a new alliance in the Middle East of moderates who promote life and that is inspiring hope.
This group of moderate states is working together for the benefit of their people. And that stands in contrast to the radical axis led by Iran and its proxies, who are working to undermine regional stability in this period of severe global challenges.
We have a close dialogue with the UAE. Our two countries face many of the same challenges, and we are working together to meet them.
Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said on December 16, 2021, that it would not allow oil tankers to enter the Red Sea resort of Eilat, as was planned under a deal with partners from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to transport crude from the Gulf to Europe via Israel. The announcement could lead to the cancellation of the deal, one of the biggest to emerge from the normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE last year. Read the full story here.