The wealthy Gulf countries are, without doubt, the most attractive places for Israeli business. As Dubai was building the Palm Islands – a megalomaniac real estate project delayed by the global economic crisis – Israelis had a hand in providing some of the shingles through an Italian roofing tile company.
A fair number of Israeli high-tech companies operate in the Gulf states. One field in which they are active is internal security, a particularly thriving activity before the assassination in Dubai of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh two years ago today. When the story broke there were media claims that photographic and security equipment used by Dubai police resembled Israeli technology. It was never confirmed that Mossad agents (according to foreign reports ) were caught through the use of Israeli technology, but it is known that quite a few companies in the Gulf states rely on sophisticated Israeli technology for security purposes. And not just technology – an Israeli-owned security firm protecting oil fields in one of the Gulf countries also brings in Israelis to guard them.
Israel also exports medical, agricultural and water technologies to the Gulf states. Trade depends on the regional political situation, like with the Mabhouh affair. “In such cases you simply keep your head down and wait until it all blows over,” says Naava Mashiah, who lives in Geneva and brokers deals in the Middle East. “You need to be sensitive to the situation. You simply stop, not even sending emails, until the tide turns. Israelis have already gone back to doing business in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.”
Mashiah, who visits the Gulf twice a year, is part of a small group of Israelis who have turned the complicated occupation of business mediation between Israelis and Arabs into a livelihood. Some do it not just for the handsome financial reward but also in the belief that it could bring long-desired peace a step closer. Mashiah belongs to Israeli Peace Initiative, a movement formed by Idan Ofer whose membership, which includes prominent personalities in Israel’s business elite, wants to establish an alternative to the political deadlock in the region.
In dealings in Arab countries it’s impossible to separate the political and business aspects, says Mashiah. “The Saudi initiative didn’t get a response from Israel, and the Arab world sees this as an insult. The Israeli Peace Initiative, in a way, provides an answer to the standstill because it shows there are serious Israelis aware of the political situation and working to change it. Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the world, and our group is trying to break this isolation. One way is by creating business ties with Arab countries.”