Emirati Official: UAE Will Allow Israelis to Enter Gulf State
Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is illuminated during festivities marking the one-year countdown to Expo 2020, on October 20, 2019. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images)

Emirati Official: UAE Will Allow Israelis to Enter Gulf State

Some 200 countries, including Israel, are expected to participate in the mega-budget Expo 2020 trade fair, drawing millions of tourists to Dubai.

Dubai, one of seven sheikhdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates, will open its doors to Israelis to enter the Gulf country.

The UAE’s largest and most glamorous city is set to host Expo 2020, a mega-budget international trade fair will take place next October, and will last for six months. The UAE is hoping the event will attract millions of tourists to the city and boost its economy.

The World Expo, an international exhibition designed to showcase the achievements of nations, takes place every five years.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry in the capital Abu Dhabi told The Media Line that a decision had been made to allow tourists holding Israeli passports to enter the country next year.

“This is an international event and we will not stop anyone attending Expo 2020 from coming in,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Israeli journalist-turned-political-analyst Eli Nissan told The Media Line that this is “of course an important decision” and that Expo 2020 is a great opportunity to drive relations forward.

“There is some kind of change in the position of the Gulf states toward Israel,” said Nissan, who argue that he is not surprised by the news. “This is not the first time that Israelis enter Gulf countries. Many Israeli sports delegations participated in events in Qatar and the UAE recently.”

Last June, Israeli journalists and former officials attended a US-sponsored summit in Manama, Bahrain.

Israel has no official diplomatic ties with any of the Gulf states but there have been increasing signs of a warming of relations in recent years. Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz has said his country was pursuing “nonaggression” agreements with the Gulf states.

According to Nissan, “This means that there is some sort or kind of normalization process between Israel and the Gulf. I won’t say it’s a complete normalization but there is some kind of normalization.” He argues that this development can be attributed to “the imminent threat from Iran against Israel and the Gulf. This threat drives these governments to change their approach and attitude toward Israel.  Therefore, these countries began to allow Israeli delegations to participate in events in their countries.”

In October 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Oman and met with Sultan Qaboos in the capital, Muscat.

Earlier that year in March, Saudi Arabia allowed an Israel-bound passenger plane to cross through its airspace for the first time, breaking a 70-year ban.

In June, a group of Israeli journalists attended a US-led economic conference as part of a planned Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in Bahrain. And a month later, Katz said he met his Bahraini counterpart publicly for the first time on a visit to Washington.

Mehdi Mahmoudi, an Iranian freelance journalist, told The Media Line that Tehran will “condemn” the step when it becomes official.

“It shows that the UAE’s intention is to normalize relations with Israel,” Mahmoudi said. He asserted that with US sanctions, Iranian businesses are looking to “find new markets and attract foreign investment.” However, he said, this may harm their efforts. “I think it is possible that Iran will limit its participation because of Israel’s presence. It is also likely that only Iranian nongovernment companies will be allowed to participate at the 2020 Expo and governmental companies may ignore it.”

According to the Expo website, some 200 countries will participate in the fair.

The UAE official confirmed that Israel was one of those countries but he declined to say if the decision to allow Israelis in would continue after the event.

“An official decision has not been made on this issue yet,” the official said.

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