Business ties between Israel and the UAE are set to explode

There are already 500 Israeli companies doing business in the UAE

AN ISRAELI poses with Emiratis in Dubai last week. It’s time to pay attention to Arabs who live here, too. (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRISTOPHER PIKE)
AN ISRAELI poses with Emiratis in Dubai last week. It’s time to pay attention to Arabs who live here, too.
When Daniel Levner was developing a portable machine that can analyze blood tests in minutes, he never thought he’d see his machines in Dubai. But Levner, the Co-founder and Chairman of the Scientific Board of Sight Diagnostics, has just signed a deal with Phoenix Capital to have his machines in dozens of medical facilities across the UAE.
“It is an excellent product market fit because of the facilities they service,” Levner told The Jerusalem Report. “They will benefit from the decentralized quality of the product.”
He says that already in the beginning of 2021, they hope that their product will be placed in labs throughout UAE. Most outpatient clinics in the UAE have their own mini-labs that require expensive machines to analyze blood tests. Sight Diagnostics does the same job with a much smaller and cheaper machine. They estimate the market for these smaller machines could reach $2.85 billion by 2024.
The deal is just one example of dozens of business deals signed between Israel and the UAE since the two countries signed a normalization deal in September. Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan Nahoum, who is one of the funders of the UAE-Israel Business Council, said Israel and the UAE complement each other.
“We’re a very good business match,” Hassan Nahoum said in an interview. “On the one hand Israel is the start up nation. We have created here a cadre of problem-solving technologies in practically every field. We export that technology to the world and there is a very specific way of thinking here which is very innovative. To go from a small country to the second, third innovative ecosystem in the world takes a lot of ingenuity and that’s what we have here. On the side of the UAE, they’re very good at things that we’re less good at and that is infrastructural development, planning ahead. They are logistical hubs, supply chain hubs, they’re basically the gateway to the east.”
According to the Council, there are already 500 Israeli companies doing business in the UAE. Our Crowd, a global venture investing platform, has just signed a $100 million deal with Abu Dhabi’s Al-Nabooda Group.
“What’s remarkable is how broad the sector focus is going to be,” Jon Medved, Our Crowd’s CEO said in an interview. “It’s not just cyber security, or logistics because of their spectacular Dubai port, or aviation because of the Emirates airline, Etihad, but it’s also smart city technology, it’s renewable energy, it’s food security, and desert related ag tech, its education technology, tons of health care, drones, it goes on and on.”
Another Israeli company that attended the recent GITEX Technology exhibition in Dubai is Eyecon, a CallerID application with users in every country in the world. CEO Ken Zweibel said that the UAE is one of the most active users of the application and that as soon as the normalization agreement was announced in September, they began making plans to attend the conference in person in December. He said he sees the UAE itself as both a large market and the gateway to the Arab world.
“Our booth had an Israeli flag presenting us as part of the Israeli delegation,” Zwiebel said. “We were received with open arms by locals and others from the region. We found lots of companies interested in partnering with us on many levels and believe that this beginning will open us up to many new opportunities that were not even on our radar a year ago.”
Many Israelis say the peace treaty with the UAE feels different than the much colder peace with Egypt and Jordan. In December, after airlines started the direct three-hour flight between Israel and Dubai, an estimated 70,000 Israelis visited the UAE. On Hanukkah, there were public menorah lightings in several places, and kosher food is now available in almost every hotel.
The UAE was especially attractive to Israelis because it was a “green” country, meaning returning Israelis did not have to quarantine. But once that loophole was closed, and along with the third lockdown because of rising corona rates in Israel, very few Israeli tourists were able to visit.
Yet many Israelis say that after they receive their Covid vaccinations, the first place they want to go is Dubai. Emiratis too say they want to visit Israel as well especially the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, dozens of Hebrew classes have sprung up in the UAE.
Businessmen in the UAE say that they also have something to offer potential Israeli partners.
“If you look at what Abu Dhabi has, there’s a consistent set of policy making, consistent programs that we have to drive that agenda” Tariq Bin Hendi of the Abu Dhabi Investment Office said in a Zoom call, “There’s a lot of access to knowledge, and most importantly, and this is something that we’re very proud of, we’re very pro-active in terms of our approach to things.”
Yet business leaders on both sides caution that Israelis wanting to do business in the UAE might need to adapt their approach. The Israeli bluntness and chutzpah might not go over well in the UAE.
“Our business culture in Israel is very transactional. Israelis are very impatient and they want to fly to the UAE for a week and make a deal,” Hassan Nahoum said. “You’re not going to go to the UAE for one week and make a deal. People need to get to know you, they need to trust you, it’s a very kind of eastern way of doing business.”
She cautioned Israeli businessmen to move slowly. “You have to walk before you can run and you don’t get married on the first date.”
Although the UAE is a modern country, it is still a Muslim country, with a more conservative climate. The business culture is more formal than that of Israel. Men and women who are not married or related do not hug or kiss each other.
Women should not dress provocatively and in some parts of the UAE, public consumption of alcohol, which violates Islam, is frowned on. At the same time, several Israeli wineries have already signed deals to export to the UAE.
Many Israeli companies also see the UAE as a gateway to both the Arab world and to Asia. According to the UAE-Israel Business Council, some 90 million passengers transited through the UAE’s airports in 2019. If Israeli businessmen could be exposed to even a fraction of this, it could mean larger sales for everyone.
In just a few months, both the political and economic climate for Israel in the Arab world has changed. Many expect the momentum to continue with predictions that Indonesia and Oman will be next to establish ties with Israel.
However, it may be a while until the big prize, Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s wealthiest country, joins in. If and when that happens, Israeli businesses are poised to enter this large market and sign even more deals.■