Israel expects to seal deals worth about $500m after Tuesday’s historic agreements to normalise ties with the UAE and Bahrain come into force.
Ofir Akunis, Israel’s minister of regional co-operation, said the accords would expand into bilateral trade and investments reaching “billions of dollars for each side”. The Jewish state will offer its expertise in water desalination and agricultural technology as the most promising sectors for co-operation with its new business partners in the Gulf.
The initial roster of investments, from technology and tourism to culture and transportation, would likely come into effect after parliamentary ratification of the accords, which is expected after the end of the Jewish holiday period in mid-October.
“The main idea here is peace to prosperity,” Mr Akunis told the Financial Times. “We want bilateral economic relationships with the UAE and Bahrain to build a new Middle East.”
As Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to sign normalisation deals with Donald Trump, US president, and ministers from the UAE and Bahrain at the White House on Tuesday, Mr Akunis said the bilateral deals would use economic development as a “bridge to peace”, although the ministry would not name specific companies or a precise timetable.
The two Gulf states’ deals with Israel, forged through mutual enmity with Iran, have delivered a foreign policy win for Mr Trump. But they have also drawn rebukes from regional critics and the Palestinians, who believe the agreements will undermine their pursuit of a viable state.
The UAE, which is seeking advanced technological transfer and security partnership, has shrugged this off. The federation had already signed some public deals with Israel in the run-up to the announcement of the so-called Abraham Accords, including on tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
The Israeli ministry of regional co-operation will offer the country’s expertise in water desalination and recycling, as well as related technologies around agriculture, as a high priority for Gulf states suffering from water and food insecurity. Bilateral research deals between Israeli and Gulf scientists will be another focus, said Mr Akunis.
On Sunday, two higher education bodies in the UAE and Israel signed an agreement to work together on artificial intelligence, the first such collaboration between research institutions.
Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank by assets, on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding with Bank Hapoalim, one of Israel’s largest, allowing Israelis to transact directly with the UAE, according to Dov Kotler, Bank Hapoalim’s chief executive.
Israel also hopes to attract Gulf investment into its technology sector and would look to benefit from the UAE and Bahrain’s experience in delivering reclamation projects, including Dubai’s offshore man-made islands, he added.
Israel and the UAE are also planning for direct flights and the opening of embassies before the end of the year.
Flights to the UAE and Bahrain would pave the way for a surge in visitors. “In Israel, many — including Arabs — are looking forward to the tourism opportunities,” he said. “And we want to welcome tourists.”
Mr Akunis added that any future normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia could lay the groundwork for plans to build a railroad to integrate Israel into Middle Eastern economies.
The rail network would link the port of Haifa in Israel with the UAE and Bahrain via Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Mr Akunis said the network could act as the cornerstone for a new era of economic co-operation.
“This would bring billions of dollars to all of us,” he said.