Few events in a nation’s history are worthy of being called transformational – strategic pivots that change a country’s fate, its people’s lives, and its geostrategic posture. The Abraham Accords represent just such a change. After decades of division, the region was brought together by a handful of bold leaders, and the foundations for lasting peace and economic integration were laid.
The Abraham Accords are more than mere agreements to end hostilities or recognize each other’s sovereignty over territory; they are the first step since our country’s establishment to integrate Israel into the fabric of business, religious and cultural ties in the Middle East. And their success was by no means a foregone conclusion.
But two years into this most remarkable journey, the Accords have been so successful that it seems almost unremarkable to hear Hebrew in the bazaars, hotel lobbies, and boardrooms of the most dynamic countries in the Middle East.
As the founders of the UAE-Israel Business Council (UIBC) – which was established even before those fateful days in August 2020 when the accords were announced by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel, and the United States – we have been privileged to have front-row seats to witness the monumental changes sweeping the region. While the novelty and excitement of regional normalization are still with us, our days are now occupied with the nuts and bolts of building a new Middle East, from trade protocols to bilateral investment initiatives, cultural exchanges, joint ventures, and commercial agreements between Emirati, Moroccan, Bahraini, and Israeli businesspeople. Business, and the people-to-people ties that drive it, have brought the region closer than ever before.
Trade between the UAE and Israel has risen by an order of magnitude to almost $3 billion (annualized), from only $50 million per year before the Accords. Israeli technology companies in the fields of water, solar, cybersecurity, and fintech operate across the UAE, while the UAE’s sovereign investment funds are taking leading positions as stakeholders in Israel’s innovation ecosystem. As many as 500,000 Israeli tourists will make their way to Dubai this year, while prominent Emiratis headline Israeli business, cultural, and trade conferences in Tel Aviv. And the trend is growing. The UAE-Israel Business Council forecasts that in 2022 over 500 Israeli businesses will be trading in the UAE, with dozens more in Bahrain, Morocco, and, less visibly, even in countries with which diplomatic relations have not been formalized. As the stigma of trading with Israel falls away, we have seen significant interest from businesspeople across the region – Iraqi, Lebanese, Saudi, Qatari, Pakistani, and others – eager to forge commercial ties with Israelis. One of the best indicators of this is trade between Israel and Egypt and Jordan, which has more than doubled over the past two years, after languishing for decades.
The case of Israel and the UAE, respectively the Startup Nation and the Scale-Up Nation, is quite unique. Israel’s strengths in technology and innovation are perfectly matched with the UAE’s strengths in logistics, transport, and energy, and as the region’s premier business hub. This is reflected in hundreds of business and intergovernmental agreements signed by the governments and merchants of the UAE and Israel, and by billions of dollars generated by bilateral trade in biotechnology, diamonds, agriculture, tourism, and renewables.
The UAE has opened new horizons for Israelis trading in the region and far beyond, with Israeli businesses shifting operations to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as gateways to the greater Middle East, Asia, and beyond. The UIBC’s events –from in-person gatherings to topical webinars and online roundtables – have hosted thousands of our members who, in addition to commercial ties, have forged deep personal relationships with their counterparts from across the region.
Looking back over the past two years, it is not surprising that the signatories to the Abraham Accords are the most successful, prosperous, dynamic, and livable countries in the region. Led by courageous leaders who put their people first and saw the clear benefits integration would bring, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco stand as models of what can be accomplished by casting away old paradigms in favor of a shared future.
We hope and believe that their vision and example will extend throughout the region as the forces of progress and tolerance continue to transform the region for the benefit of us all.