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Israel-United Arab Emirates: economic integration and implications for Italy. Interview with Gilad Carni


The economic dimension represents the litmus test of the newly cooperation between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, following the signature of the Abraham accords. To better understand this integration process, we interviewed the Israeli businessman Gilad Carni, founder and CEO of UAE Israel Innovation Office.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) represented the first Gulf State to normalize the diplomatic relation with Israel under the framework of the Abraham Accords. What role did the ‘technology diplomacy’, the economic and the People-to-People level play in persuading the political echelon to sign this agreement?

Economically, the agreement is mutually beneficial. The UAE, a financial hub and infrastructure giant can partner with Israel, a high-tech bastion. While politically, the Abraham accords create a front against Iran which is perceived to be a growing threat, the possibility for the two countries to trade and share technology must have been a huge factor.

Of course, there are also people-to-people relations being established. Some relations have existed covertly before normalization, but now relations can grow and with warmth. One positive aspect is that Jews living in the UAE and Bahrain can now have a closer connection to Israel and family they have there. Also, many Israeli tourists are coming to the UAE. During COVID-19, Israelis helped sustain the UAE’s large tourism industry during difficult times. As travel restrictions are eased and both countries are doing extremely well with vaccinations, people-to-people relations of both countries will only be growing.

The Kingdom of Bahrein followed the UAE, becoming the second Gulf State to sign the Abraham Accords. Apart from other countries like Morocco or Sudan – that even though have signed the Abraham declaration are following a different path – should we expect that other Gulf States will normalize their relations with Israel?

Seeing that Saudi Arabia permitted Bahrain to make peace with Israel and has allowed Israeli planes to fly over their territory, I am optimistic. I believe the Abraham Accords are opening many doors to normalization deals coming soon.

From an economic, infrastructural and energetic point of view should we expect a ‘clusterization process’ of the Middle Eastern region (at least among the countries involved within the Abraham framework) or the relation between Israel and the new Arab partners will remain on a bilateral level? 

I think that the UAE has a competitive advantage against other Arab countries for trading with Israel. If Arab countries want to compete with the UAE and avoid being left out of business agreements, this may be an incentive to embrace normalization.

Let’s talk about your role on this story. Why did you decide to found the UAE Israel Innovation Office? What are the services provided by your company? Which private/public actors do you assist?

As an entrepreneur, I sold multiple companies and invested in the first ever Israeli company to be acquired by Google. Having my own “start-up nation” story, I wanted to give back to Israel. There is a side of Israel, full of creative and clever innovators, that I wanted to show to the world. I invited groups from around the world to tour Israel’s high-tech scene. After the Abraham Accords were established, I thought they were a great opportunity to bring together what once were two unlikely partners in business. Already having relationships in the UAE, I set up the UAE Israel Innovation Office. At the office, we consult and provide both Israeli and Emirati companies with connections in the opposite country. We are helping both Israeli and Emirati companies in cybersecurity, food tech, AI, healthcare, and other sectors.

What are the main sectors where we can already see the positive effects generated by the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE? Can you mention some data about the business flow? 

The NIS 900 million of trade between the two countries is only the beginning. Currently, Israel is exporting food and tech products, while the UAE is exporting metals and commodities. I see huge potential for Israeli cybersecurity companies. Citing a “cyber pandemic,” the cyber chief in the UAE has expressed his desire to work with Israeli companies.

Israel is commonly known as the “Start-up Nation” while the UAE is an oil-driven country and a global logistic hub. Do you think there is a complementarity between these two economies and business environments? 

As the UAE is diversifying its economy from an oil-driven country, the government is especially pushing the high-tech sector. Israeli companies have a lot to offer in that field. While the UAE is a financial hub, Israel can contribute to its fintech. Both are water-scarce countries with a similar climate. They can certainly cooperate with agritech. Those are just a few examples. I think the countries complement each other very well.

Finally, do you think Europe and, more specifically, Italy, can benefit from this Middle Eastern economic and technological integration trend?

The Abraham Accords shows the world is becoming incrementally more free and less hostile. As the Middle East begins to open up and trade more, I believe the whole world will benefit. Israeli high-tech companies can help Emirati companies compete in Europe. Furthermore, Italy is a more supportive partner to Israel in the EU and can help and benefit from this new stream of trade.

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