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Israel International Relations: Israel - UAE Relations

Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have a relatively nonexistant relationship. The UAE does not officially recognize Israel, and Israeli passport-holders cannot legally enter the country. The two do not have formal economic or diplomatic ties.

In late November 2015, the government of the United Arab Emirates granted Israel formal permission to establish a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi. Although this signifies a slight warming in relations between the two countries, the UAE granted permission to Israel largely to facilitate it's membership in the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Officials from both countries have clarified that the diplomatic office serves the sole purpose of allowing Israeli diplomats to have a permanent office for IRENA, and reside there as well. This diplomatic relationship is comparable to the relationship between Iran and the United States, wherein Iran has a UN Mission in New York despite the lack of U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations.

During the first week of November 2016, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, paid a secretive visit to the UAE to attend a conference under the auspices of his position as chairman of the UN legal committee. Danon's visit was conducted under stringent security measures, to avoid public opposition.

Some Israeli businesses conduct business in the UAE, and there is a small population of Israeli ex-patriot professionals working in the UAE. There are also citizens of Israel who hold dual citizenship and work in the UAE as citizens of other countries.

In October 2018, Miri Regev, Israel’s culture and sports minister paid the first state visit by an Israeli official to Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Muslim world’s third largest house of worship, after mosques in Mecca and Medina. During her trip to the UAE, Regev also witnessed a milestone when Israel’s national anthem was played after Sagi Muki won a gold medal in the international judo tournament held in the capital. Coincidentally, an Israeli gymnastics delegation was in Qatar for the beginning of the world championships being held in Doha (Times of Israel, October 29, 2018). Shortly after Regevs visit, Israel’s communications minister, Ayoub Kara, visited Dubai for a telecommunications conference (AAJ News, October 31, 2018).

The warming relations between Israel and the UAE has also made it possible for Jews living and visiting to come out of the shadows. “After meeting for years in one another’s homes, Dubai’s Jews — expatriates in fields such as finance, law, energy, and diamonds — three years ago rented a villa in a quiet residential neighborhood for services,” according to Jonathan Ferziger and Alisa Odenheimer. “The unmarked building features a sanctuary for prayers, a kosher kitchen, and a few bedrooms for visitors or community members who don’t drive on the Sabbath.”

The congregation has no permanent rabbi, but some come to visit. The service is Orthodox and worshippers pray for the well-being of the nation’s leaders: “Bless and protect, guard and assist, exalt, magnify, and uplift the president of the U.A.E., Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, and his deputy, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, and all the rulers of the other emirates and their crown princes.”

According to Ross Kriel, a lay leader of the community, “The government’s attitude to our community is that they want us to feel comfortable being here, praying here, and doing business here.”

Sources: Simon Henderson, “Israel's gulf breakthrough,” The Washington Institute, (November 30, 2015);
Daniel Roth, “Report: Israel's UN ambassador made secret visit to Dubai,” Jerusalem Post, (November 3, 2016);
Jonathan Ferziger and Alisa Odenheimer, “As the Gulf Warms Up to Israel, a Synagogue Grows in Dubai,” Bloomberg Businessweek, (December 5, 2018);