From high-tech entrepreneurs seeking sales to tourists who want to experience the formerly forbidden, Israelis have been flooding into the United Arab Emirates to take advantage of new business and leisure opportunities.
Israeli-Emirati activity this week surged to one of its highest points since the August 13 announcement of the Abraham Accords that officially established relations between the two countries. Hundreds of Israelis came for GITEX Technology Week, the annual computer and electronics show and conference in Dubai. Others arrived to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which starts Thursday at sundown, or to get away from Israel’s partial lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Still others were there for cultural gatherings or academic training.
With so many tourists coming since flights began last month, the government-owned airline Flydubai is adding a third daily Tel Aviv-Dubai flight starting on December 10. The airline is the first from the UAE to offer direct flights between Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and Dubai International. Up to 15,000 Israelis are expected to travel this month to Dubai, the UAE’s second-largest city, which has an easy e-visa process for passengers from the Jewish state. There is no quarantine for visitors.
Ofer Ronen, vice president of business development for Corsight, a facial-recognition business that is part of the Cortica autonomous artificial intelligence (AI) company, said he has been in talks with UAE police forces. He has been demonstrating Corsight’s complex facial-recognition system, which works from multiple angles, even through a mask. Corsight’s sister company, Fintica, which provides data analysis and analytics, was one of the first Israeli businesses to conclude a deal with the UAE after the signing of the Abraham Accords in September.
Ronen, who was at GITEX, told The Media Line: “There is a lot of interest in AI. The UAE is one of the only countries with a national program for AI, so there’s a really genuine approach to take this country forward and make it like a global case study into a smart city, from police to security.”
We have to be here and understand the business culture before we start to sell
Tal Bar Or, chief executive officer of Octopus artificial intelligence, is also in talks with UAE government entities about the company’s control-and-command platform that unites facial-recognition, video-management and other systems. The platform is being used in 28 countries including Singapore, the United States and Thailand.
There has been great interest in the platform in the Gulf region, he told The Media Line.
“First, we have to be here and understand the business culture before we start to sell,” Bar Or said. “We have unique tech offerings, but we need to bring value. The UAE especially is a very mature and sophisticated market, and they’re really looking for high-end solutions here.”
Academic collaboration is also blossoming, although sometimes via Zoom. Nir Tsuk is a professor of innovation at New York University’s Tel Aviv campus. He came to Dubai this week to offer innovation training for the Dubai chapter of the Young Presidents Organization, a non-profit group that connects business leaders. This is the start of a knowledge exchange that could also bridge cultural gaps with the UAE, where citizens of nearly 200 countries co-exist peacefully, he said.
“What we’re trying to do with these kinds of events is expose what’s happening in other parts of the world because innovation is a mindset, a new language, much like we went through when we became computer literate,” he explained.
“What is acceptable in one country isn’t in another, for example in Japan, where the Japanese are taught tenets such as harmony and obedience. Their manifestation of innovation will look very different to the more risk-taking Israeli population. It’ll be very interesting to learn from here now, and take that out to other places, too,” he added.
We touched on how UAE and Israeli history is so similar. It’s really important to focus on these similarities and to show the students how much commonality there is from an academic point of view
Dr. Majid Al Sarrah, an Emirati public-policy specialist, joined students and professors from the University of Haifa this week for The Researchers Night webinar that brought academics together from around the world. He is one of many UAE-based Emirati and foreign academics looking forward to working with Israelis, he told The Media Line.
“The idea was for us to meet young people,” he said, allowing many students the chance to interact with people from the Gulf for the very first time. The group discussed the innovative history of the UAE, its rise from desert coastal town to modern-day metropolis, among other topics. “We touched on how UAE and Israeli history is so similar. It’s really important to focus on these similarities and to show the students how much commonality there is from an academic point of view.”
The roughly 9.5 million residents of the UAE include 2.6 million Indians, the largest non-Emirati group. Many of the world’s richest Indians call the UAE their second home, if not their first.
Merzi Sodawaterwala, chairperson of the International Federation of Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce, has been preparing to open the international headquarters in the UAE.
“The idea is now to take this strong community of diaspora Indians to Israeli companies,” he told The Media Line. The UAE is situated between India and Israel, making it a meeting point for businesses on both sides.
“We’ll be facilitating business and investment opportunities in areas such as scientific research, IT, agricultural and food security, health care and med tech and sustainabilty; industries where there is a synergy among the three countries,” Sodawaterwala said.