When the signing of the Abraham Accords was first announced, there was a lot of excitement around the opportunity this presented for business and tourism, but it was hard to identify the amount of business that was “on the table.” Nearly two years later, we know that in the first half of 2022 alone, trade (excluding software) between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reached $1.214 billion, up from $560 million during the same period in 2021. The rising trade figures, the droves of tourists filling the growing number of direct flights between Israel and the Arabian Gulf, and the many collaboration projects announced on nearly a weekly basis are all a testament to the potential which was unleashed by the Accords.
While it is never too early to form normal relations between any set of countries, the establishment of official ties between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain could not have come at a better time. Both countries have presented ambitious long-term development programs to transform their economies from resource-based to innovation-based and to integrate technology into every aspect of society. It is no secret that Israel is one of the world’s leading innovation centers, boasting the highest ratio of venture capital investments and the most start-ups per capita, and hosting the most foreign R&D centers. All this creates an abundance of mutually beneficial opportunities.
Collaboration is a catalyst for innovation, sparking new ideas and promoting growth. The bold programs the UAE and Bahrain set forth to advance their healthcare systems, transportation infrastructure, and housing quality – to name just a few examples – can benefit greatly from innovative Israeli solutions. At the same time, these programs provide opportunities for Israeli companies to scale beyond their limited local market and expand regionally.
As Israel continues to integrate into the region, it can play more of an active role in the joint efforts to address shared challenges through technology. Addressing these regional challenges – such as food security, water scarcity, and energy resilience – requires innovation, and while Israel does not have the solution to every problem, it does have the innovative track record to contribute as an equal partner in a wider regional effort.
Innovation is what enables the sustainable, long-lasting integration of Israel into the region. It creates a frictionless space for cooperation, which will solidify the foundations of these nascent relationships, thus ensuring they endure external pressures and withstand periods of political crisis.
Bahrain and the UAE are natural partners for Israel in the region; the transformation they have gone through in the past two decades has positioned them as leading economic powers on the global stage and as centers for activity in the region. It is no coincidence that Israeli tech companies are flocking to Abu Dhabi and Dubai and are eyeing Manama to expand their activities, just as Emiratis and Bahrainis are visiting Israel to scout for investment opportunities and scalable solutions. Essentially, it is a story of young countries that progressed quickly to become regional innovation hubs that by working together, can make a sum that is greater than its individual parts.
These relationships are significant, however, not just on the bilateral level. Their success sets an example for other countries. It demonstrates the advantages of normalization and the mutual benefits of collaboration. Moreover, as the UAE and Bahrain have been ahead of the curve in connecting with Israel and pursuing opportunities proactively, they set an example of how to form successful partnerships. Since the signing of the accords, we have seen steady growth in the business relations between these countries. As time goes by and both sides become increasingly familiar with each other and build trust, it is safe to say that this growth will only accelerate.
My first visit to the UAE was just a few months ago, shortly after I joined Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit that promotes Israeli innovation worldwide, to lead its Innovation Diplomacy activity. More recently I visited Bahrain too for the first time. I was amazed. Not by the impressive accomplishments of both countries (which are truly a sight to see) or by the abundant presence of international corporations. What I was struck by was how much of a non-issue it was having Israelis, Emiratis, and Bahrainis engaging directly in business. It is amazing how quickly these ties, which were unimaginable not too long ago, have become natural and familiar. This gives me confidence in the long-term success of these relationships and the prosperity that our joint endeavors will introduce to the region and beyond.