Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the South African connection

South Africa has played and continues to play a role in the making of peace between Israel and the UAE.

The Dubai-based kosher caterer, Elli Kriel (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Dubai-based kosher caterer, Elli Kriel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Much has already been written about the surprising and exciting news of the establishment of bilateral relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Not perhaps a new “peace accord,” as there was never war nor real hostilities between the countries, nevertheless, it is significant in that yet another (important) Arab country has come out of the shadows and is now ready to formalize such relations. Albeit that for some years, trade and even investment relations have been in existence, it being an open secret, yet clearly, the lack of formal relations severely restricted further growth of potential bilateral business.
When I first visited Dubai in 2015 to attend a conference on behalf of my Cypriot law firm, I entered the country with ease on my British passport. Being Israeli, the thought did cross my mind, that although my speaker profile at the conference was all but Israeli and although my distinctive South African accent will not “give me away” as an Israeli and a captain in the IDF, I was slightly concerned about my LinkedIn profile, which is plenty Israeli. The fresh memory of a few mysterious “British” tennis players at a luxury hotel in Dubai, later accused of interfering with the well being of one Mahmoud Abdel Rauf al-Mabhouh also passed through my mind.
Anyway, my time spent in Dubai was very productive, interesting and pleasant and was successful on all fronts. The only possible confusion might have been why a South African-sounding Brit was presenting on Cypriot law on behalf of a Cypriot law firm? The few locals who knew I was actually Israeli were super friendly and happy to engage. At that point, I understood that business with the UAE will develop further and that our firm could continue providing, and should further market its services to Israeli clients who wish to do business (through Cypriot corporate structures) with and in the UAE and other neighboring countries. Since the announcement of the formalization of relations, the level of inquiries has grown significantly, proving the desire to engage in business and investments.
A couple of years later, I held a business meeting with an interesting woman in Paphos, Cyprus. I was told that she was South African and therefore, surely, we would find a common language. That we did. Elli has subsequently become a friend whom I’ve also met with in Israel. I was ,however, quite surprised that within a span of a few minutes, she told me of her life in Dubai, the family having relocated there from Johannesburg a few years prior due to her husband’s work, and then proceeded to order her coffee from the waiter in fluent Greek!
Elli Kriel has now become quite famous for being the proud owner of the first and only kosher catering service in the UAE. Her husband, Ross, is the driving force behind the small, but lively Jewish community in Dubai. Elli is busier than ever and has inter alia contracted to provide kosher catering with an important local hotel chain in the UAE
Finally, I was chuffed to learn that the captain of the first formal El Al flight that made history in flying the blue and white Star of David flag over Saudi airspace and landing in the UAE was yet another tribe member, originally from South Africa. Captain Tal Becker, who immigrated to Israel as a boy, was given the honor of piloting the plane carrying the senior Israeli and American delegations to Abu Dhabi (and back), and made history in doing so.
That completes the “Saffa” trilogy, which played and continues to play a role in the making of peace between Israel and the UAE. We can fly you there, feed you and take care of your legal and business needs in the UAE.
Next time you hear a South African accent anywhere in the Middle East, don’t be surprised, it could well be the voice of Peace!