Israel’s airports are closed. Despite several million Israelis vaccinated against the coronavirus, the country is trying to prevent travelers from leaving or coming due to concerns over new coronavirus mutations. This policy almost torpedoed Israel’s first time participation in the massive IDEX defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi. With almost 1,000 exhibitors from sixty countries, the exhibition is important.
Around forty Israeli companies sought to participate. However the airport closure meant many Israeli booths remain empty in the large impressive Israeli pavilion. Israel’s head of mission in Abu Dhabi Eitan Na’eh attended and went to the Israeli section. Israel Aerospace Industries had local staff at their booth and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems had members of a Spanish subsidiary fill in. Other companies, such as Aeronautics showed off their new Orbiter 4 tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Steadicopter, which has helicopter UAVs, also unveiled a new product.
The Israeli presence was the first time Israeli companies were at the important event publicly. Although Israel has had quiet dealing with the United Arab Emirates and some Gulf states for years, the ability to seek joint ventures and partnerships openly is new. This has all come about in the wake of the Abraham Accords last year which saw Bahrain and the UAE normalize relations.
Meanwhile the overall exhibition saw reports of more than one billion dollars in deals announced the first day. IDEX runs from February 21 for five days. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Teleworking Applications, said that the UAE is a country that looks ahead. “We plan proactively rather than reactively to changes, and artificial intelligence will reshape the world as we know it. We are seeing an increasing infusion of systems that are productive and critical to our economies. Defending these systems is as critical as defending the sovereignty of our nation. The UAE has a chief cybersecurity officer that secures these systems,” he noted. Israel is a leader in artificial intelligence and cyber security. It is widely expected that Israel, which has a plethora of small startup companies and often incorporates new technology into defense technology quickly, will find many partners in the Gulf.
The UAE’s Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs, said that his country has harnessed a wealth of possibilities made available by using advanced technology and artificial intelligence. “Our nation has coped with the pandemic on the local and global stage effectively and efficiently. In spite of the darkest of circumstances, the UAE continues to achieve momentous scientific and cultural achievements,” he noted, according to a statement. “Today, we hold an excellent opportunity to discuss how to protect the development of artificial intelligence and cutting-edge technology. Furthermore, we can confer on how the pandemic has impacted supply chains for global private sector companies, including industries such as healthcare, transportation, and of course, defence.”
This means technologies from what is called the “fourth industrial revolution” will be crucial for defense in the future. “This is particularly pertinent as a number of these revolutionary methods greatly differ from traditional defense industries. Our industry has to work together to protect these pieces of technology from being used by malevolent state and non-state actors,” said Al Bowardi.
As Israel explores opportunities in the Gulf there are increasing signs that this will serve as a hub for a larger security relationship that includes India, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and other countries that share interests with Israel, the UAE and India. A recent Philia Forum in Greece brought together the Foreign Ministers of Cyprus, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iraq, and the Minister of State for International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates. Although Israel did not attend, the overall trend is clear. IDEX is a symbol of where these relations are going. India, for instance, sent a warship to NAVDEX, the naval part of IDEX. Israel’s Rafael pitched a series of technologies that are suited to naval defense. The exhibition points to increasing inroads for Israel in the Gulf.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a writing fellow at Middle East Forum. He is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (Gefen Publishing) and Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future (Forthcoming, Bombardier Books). Follow him on Twitter at @sfrantzman.