In 2020 Israel signed the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. In an interview with the UK’s Jewish News, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said that nearly one million Israelis have visited the UAE since the signing of the Accords.
“Almost one-in-10 Israelis has visited the UAE since the end of 2020,” Haiat said.
When considering this number, it should be taken into account that this period marked the height of the pandemic travel restrictions. But over half a million Israelis traveled to Dubai in 2022, with over a quarter of a million visits in the last quarter alone, making the UAE a leading tourist destination among the Israeli public.
Unfortunately, tourism is not reciprocal. Only around 1,600 Emirati citizens traveled to Israel in the last ten months of 2022. Unfortunately, when a group of Emirati and Bahraini social media influencers in 2020 visited the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, they were spat on and pelted with shoes by Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Old City. The grand mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, went so far as to issue a religious edict against Emiratis visiting the mosque on the Temple Mount.
Before the official recognition of Israel in the Abraham Accords, the UAE did not allow Israeli citizens or those suspected of being Israeli citizens entry into the UAE, and no Israeli aircraft was allowed to enter UAE airspace. Israel and the UAE now have a mutual visa exemption agreement, allowing Israeli citizens and Emirati citizens to go to each other’s countries visa-free. There are currently 88 weekly flights from Ben Gurion to Dubai and 22 to Abu Dhabi via Emirates, Flydubai, and El Al. Israel and Abu Dhabi are also connected by daily flights via Etihad Airways and Wizz Air.
Haiat, who is also head of the National Public Diplomacy Directorate at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, suggested a surprising reason for the flood of Israelis visiting the Arab neighbor.
“Part of the UAE’s popularity is due to the absence of antisemitism on the scale we have witnessed in other Arab states,” she said. “It is one of the few countries in the Middle East that had no historical Jewish presence. The locals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi don’t harbor entrenched feelings of hostility towards Jews. They don’t see Israel as their enemy.”
This was also facilitated by the opening of a UAE tourism office in Tel Aviv. The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi hosted a trade workshop titled: ‘Discovering Israel: A New Source Market for Tourism’ in Abu Dhabi.
“Israel is now a key source market for Abu Dhabi, and events such as the Discovering Israel workshop will ensure that our stakeholders are fully prepared for all opportunities this market presents, driving more leisure and business tourism to our emirate,” Abdulla Yousuf, director, international operations DCT said at the opening of the event.
The UAE is the most successful among the Gulf nations, contributing $45 billion to the GDP. The country’s major tourist attraction includes the famous Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest tower in the world,] The World archipelago and Palm Jumeirah also in Dubai; Sheikh Zayed Mosque and Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi; Al Hajar Mountains in Fujairah. The uniqueness of the country’s natural desert life, especially with the Bedouins, also facilitates the country’s tourist industry.
The growing friendship also has other financial benefits. In the wake of the Abraham Accords, Israel and the UAE signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that aimed to catapult the value of non-oil bilateral trade to over US$10 billion within five years. This included joint investments in research, technology, and financial services.