Shimon Peres saw it coming, and the Emirates made it happen
In what proved to be the last book he wrote before his death, “No Room for Small Dreams,” Israeli statesman Shimon Peres presciently observed, “Technological progress has created bridges across borders and languages and cultures. We have yet to fully comprehend the opportunities that will continue to grow from this transformational connectivity.” In 18 months since four Arab states — Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — formally recognized Israel, the Jewish state and the UAE in particular have made Peres’s words a concrete reality.
Elbit, the Israeli aerospace and defense firm, has announced that its new UAE subsidiary, Elbit Systems Emirates, which it created in November 2021, signed a $53 million contract to provide the Emirate Air Force with infrared countermeasures and electronic warfare systems for the UAE’s A330 tanker transport aircraft. Elbit is already supplying these systems to NATO’s Multinational Multi-Role Tanker and Transport Fleet.
There are other ongoing contracts that UAE and Israeli technology firms have developed, most notably in the defense realm. One example is the growing relationship between Emirati defense firms and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). IAI and Edge Group are partnering on developing counter-drone technology. Edge Group is an Abu Dhabi-based conglomerate of 25 firms that UAE Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed organized in 2019. Edge Group states that its “mission is simple: to bring innovative technologies and services to market with greater speed and efficiency.” It clearly sees IAI, which is Israel’s largest defense firm, as helping it to carry out that mission.
IAI is also working with Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, which specializes in global aviation services and is one of the world’s largest aircraft leasing companies. As one Dubai Aerospace executive put it: “We are doing business in Tel Aviv now with IAI. How the world has changed!”
Israeli defense companies are participating in the UAE’s defense exhibitions. In particular, 10 companies had exhibits in IDEX 2021, the region’s pre-eminent defense expo. Israel’s Rafael pavilion, with its Spyder mobile air defense system, proved to be one of the most popular exhibits. Israel’s Avnon Group highlighted its counter-drone technology. Yet another Israeli company, Emtan, displayed its highly capable MZ-4 assault rifle and a variety of sidearms.
This week Israeli president Isaac Herzog paid his first visit to the UAE, where discussed security issues with the crown prince. Herzog, whose plane flew over Saudi Arabia, made the visit despite recent attacks by Houthi missiles and drones that have rained down on the UAE. The soft-spoken Israeli told the equally soft-spoken crown prince that Israel “completely support[s] your security requirements.” Soft-spoken the two men may be, but security cooperation between the powerful Jewish state and the Sparta of the Gulf is one to be reckoned with, especially in Tehran.
Few may be surprised that the UAE and Israel are increasingly working together in the aerospace and defense sector. The two countries have trained in a naval exercise conducted with the U.S. Central Command. Israel also maintains less-public military relationships with a number of other Arab states. But the UAE has gone further than most: It is now investing significant funds in broader areas of the Israeli high-tech sector.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Mubadala, the Emirates’s sovereign investment fund, has poured nearly $100 million into six Israeli venture capital firms. Mubadala was established by Mohammed bin Zayed and he continues to remain close to the company’s leadership. Its investments, therefore, reflect not only the UAE’s desire to attract high-tech start-ups, but also the government’s more expansive views of cooperation with Israel.
Two weeks ago, the Israeli cabinet approved a joint Israel-UAE research and development fund; each country will contribute a total of $50 million to the fund. Last week, 11 start-ups were part of an Israeli delegation to Dubai to participate in a medical technologies exhibition that featured innovations in health care, an area in which Israel is especially strong. Trade between the two countries has reached the billion-dollar mark, and that is only over the past 15 months since they signed the Abraham Accords.
Shimon Peres was an optimist. He wrote: “We have seen the impossible made real again and again.” That Israel and an important Arab state not only could have developed a working relationship, but also have accelerated their cooperation to such a great extent in under two years, demonstrates the power of Peres’s vision. It is only a shame that he did not live to see one of his prophecies come true.
Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.