Israelis eager to tighten ties to UAE after historic accord

JERUSALEM — For eager Israelis, anticipation is mounting that Dubai’s glitzy Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, will soon join the ranks of the Pyramids in Egypt and the ancient ruins in Jordan’s Petra as a once-forbidden destination now within reach.

Last week, the United Arab Emirates said it would establish full diplomatic ties with Israel, which would make it just the third Arab nation to do so. The dramatic announcement set off a flurry of excitement in Israel, bringing years of covert business and security ties into the open and adding an appealing tourist destination for travel-happy Israelis.

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Israeli TV stations have already dispatched reporters to the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation and local media has been filled with footage of Dubai’s shiny skyscrapers, massive malls, artificial islands and sandy beaches. Newspapers have been blaring headlines of a “new Middle East” and publishing tutorial articles about the Emirati economy, landscape and royal family.

The U.S.-brokered deal has been billed as a diplomatic breakthrough that formalizes the burgeoning alliance against Iran. The UAE says it halted Israel’s contentious plans to annex up to a third of the West Bank, land sought by the Palestinians.

But for many Israelis, the allure lies mostly in fulfilling their long-time yearning for acceptance in the Middle East.

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The prospect of mutual embassies, expanding tourism to the Gulf and solidifying business opportunities with another country that shares its penchant for technology and innovation has Israelis salivating.

“We used to have to ‘launder the products’ and go through all kinds of intermediaries to do business with Arabs,” said Gadi Nir, co-founder and chief executive of Bobo, an Israeli company that makes physiotherapy and rehabilitative products and just signed one of the first deals with a UAE company. “It was always indirect and artificial. Now we can get personal. We don’t have to hide under the carpet anymore.”

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