The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Here comes Air Force One: As President Joe Biden prepares to visit Israel toward the end of June, reports that Israeli business executives have been finding their way to Saudi Arabia are fueling speculation that the U.S. leader may also touch down there and push the kingdom to join other Gulf states that have normalized relations with the Jewish state.
Israelis in Riyadh: In an indication that business ties often warm up before diplomatic relations are consummated, Globes reported that dozens of Israeli executives have been allowed to enter Saudi Arabia recently on their Israeli passports. That’s a break from previous Saudi practice of admitting only those Israelis who hold passports from second countries. The Israelis even came out of Riyadh with signed contracts, according to Globes, including two multimillion-dollar deals for water-saving systems tailored to desert agriculture.
Dynamic Duo: The Saudi-Israel waltz choreographed by the White House apparently doesn’t stop in Washington. The Biden administration’s Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, and special envoy for international energy affairs, Amos Hochstein, were in the kingdom in May to discuss a possible agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt that would increase oil production in the region, according to Axios. To clinch a deal, the White House is pressing for an agreement finalizing the transfer of two Red Sea islands from Egyptian to Saudi sovereignty.
Rising Volume: Even without the Saudis on board, Emirati-Israel trade volume is expected to reach $5 billion in the next few years. In one major development, Israel Aerospace Industries participated for the first time at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi. Morocco is also promoting business with Israel, as The Circuitreported from Casablanca last week, where government ministers said they want to give their own country a dose of Israel’s start-up culture.
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In a first, Israel Aerospace joins industry’s Global Summit conference in Abu Dhabi
In another debut for Israel stemming from the Abraham Accords, the country’s leading aviation manufacturer — Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) — participated in a major industry conference last week in the United Arab Emirates, The Circuit’s Rebecca Anne Proctor reports from Abu Dhabi.
Breaking Ground: The three-day Global Aerospace Summit covered topics ranging from aviation and space travel to cybersecurity and innovation. It brought together more than 1,000 senior executives from the aerospace and defense sectors in countries around the world that are eager to foster global collaboration and partnerships. The presence of IAI, which produces aerial and aeronautic systems for both military and civilian use, broke new ground for Israel nearly two years after it signed normalization agreements with the UAE and several other Arab nations.
Mideast Leader: “What is important is that we are in the UAE and this summit is a semi-historical event for us because we are attending it for the first time ever,” Sharon Biton, IAI’s vice president of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, told The Circuit.
Drones, Missiles, Avionics: A leader in both the defense and commercial markets delivering state-of-the-art technologies in air, space, naval, cyber and homeland defense, IAI is fully owned by the Israeli government. It designs, produces, develops and maintains civil aircraft, drones, fighter aircraft, missile, avionics and space-based systems. In 2021, IAI reported annual sales of approximately $4.5 billion with an order backlog of $13.4 billion.
Start-Ups and Defense: In a panel on R&D investments, Eytan Eshel, IAI’s chief technology officer, stressed the company’s work as a bridge. “IAI’s Innovation Center is a prime example of bringing together start-ups and the defense ecosystem to develop new, unique solutions,” he said.
Forging Ties: Jacob Rozmann, vice president and general manager of Lahav Aerostructures in IAI’s Aviation Group, emphasized the importance of forging ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors. “Regional cooperation for transforming supply chains will result in quicker shipment, lower costs and a stronger industry network,” Rozmann said.
U.S. warns Israel not to move forward on normalizing its relations with Sudan
As Sudan’s relations with Israel remain in limbo following a military coup in the East African nation last year, the State Department is urging Israel not to proceed with normalization until a civilian-led government is restored in Sudan, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. Sudan signed onto the Abraham Accords in January 2021, during a brief period of relative stability between a 2019 uprising that saw Omar al Bashir, the dictator who ruled the country for 30 years, wrested from power and last year’s coup that led to military control of Sudan.
Strong words: “We strongly encourage the State of Israel to join us and the broader international community in vocally pressing for Sudan’s military leaders to cede power to a credible, civilian-led transitional government,” a State Department spokesperson told JI. Israel has not condemned the coup, which was followed by a violent crackdown against protestors, despite repeated entreaties from the U.S. government. An Israeli military delegation that visited Sudan just before the coup has reportedly stayed in contact with the Sudanese military.
Put on pause: Additionally, the U.S. “will not resume currently paused assistance to the Sudanese government until a credible civilian government is in place,” the State Department spokesperson said of promised financial and debt-related assistance, including “assistance originally committed to Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government in connection with its efforts to improve Sudan’s bilateral relationship with Israel.”
Hindsight: “There was an interest in getting as many countries as possible, as quickly as possible,” Victoria Coates, who worked on Middle East politics first at the National Security Council and then at the Department of Energy in the Trump administration, said of the Abraham Accords. “But in hindsight, that was probably a bridge too far, just for where [Sudan] was in its development.”
Raising the Volume: Trade between the UAE and Israel is likely to reach $5 billion over the next few years, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi predicted at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He said trade volume will exceed $2 billion in 2022 and 1,000 Israeli companies will be operating in his country by year’s end.
Renewable Mideast: In other Davos news, Israeli President Isaac Herzog told the WEF that the Middle East should be “a global hub of sustainable solutions in food, water and health” and “a source of energy, mostly solar energy, to Europe, Asia and Africa.”
Egypt Needs Bread: Egypt is scrambling to find new sources of wheat to replace Russia and Ukraine, which collectively supplied 80 percent of its supply before the current conflict.
Lebanese Woes: Lebanon’s currency hit a new low after its May 15 election showed no clear majority for any faction, leaving the parliament divided between pro- and anti-Hezbollah legislators.
It’s a Gas: The European Union is working on a deal with Israel and Egypt that would see Israeli gas processed in Egypt and shipped to ports in Europe, as part of a larger effort to reduce European reliance on Russian supplies.
Clipped Wings: Responding to public criticism, Israel mothballed the Boeing 767 jetliner it renovated at a cost of $241 million for use by the prime minister and president.
Neumann’s Goddess: Crypto startup FlowCarbon, which counts Israeli-American WeWork founder Adam Neumann as an investor, announced it raised $70 million. It closed on a $32 million venture capital round led by Andreesen Horowitz and raised another $38 million in a private presale of the company’s Goddess Nature Token.
Hiltons Galore: Hilton Hotels & Resorts plans to operate 59 more hotels in Saudi Arabia over the next 10 years, more than tripling the current number.
Koch Raises Funds: NeuraLight, an Israeli startup that uses smartphones to measure the progression of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, raised $25 million in a Series A funding round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies.
Soccer Flights: The CEOs of five Gulf airlines said they will add 160 daily flights to Qatar in November so that ticket holders can attend World Cup soccer matches.
Get a Job: Ogram, a UAE-based digital platform to help businesses hire staff,raised $3 million in a Series A funding round led by Modus Capital and Aditum Investment Management.
Financial Disruptor: Israel’s Viola Credit announced the closing of a $700 million fund to provide credit lines to fintech companies that disrupt traditional lending sectors.
Miami-bound: El Al Israel Airlines will move its U.S. headquarters from New York to a building in Miami owned by controlling shareholder Kenny Rozenberg, saying the shift will save $500,000 a year.
On the Circuit
Avi Gabbay: Israeli mobile phone company Partner Communications named Avi Gabbay as its new CEO. Gabbay, who fought a losing bid for prime minister as head of Israel’s Labor Party, was previously CEO of Israeli telecoms Bezeq and Cellcom.
Majida Alazazi: The chairwoman of M Glory Holding Group, Majida Alazazi, said that by the end of June the company expects to launch the first electric car made in the UAE.
Safra Catz: The Israeli-born CEO of Oracle, Safra Catz, met with Emirati officials, business executives and a visiting delegation of Jewish leaders while in the UAE, talking about technology, start-up companies, artificial intelligence and the Abraham Accords.
Ahead on the Circuit
May 29-June 1, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: 2022 Forbes Under 30 Summit EMEA. A gathering of young leaders from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the fields of business, art and philanthropy.
May 31-June 1, Dubai: Seamless Middle East 2022 conference focuses on e-commerce, retail, payments, identity and fintech. Dubai World Trade Centre.
May 31-June 2, Abu Dhabi: 7th Ports Authorities Roundtable brings senior executives from major commercial ports around the world, sponsored by AD Ports Group. Four Seasons Hotel, Maryah Island.
June 1, Tel Aviv: Silicon Valley Comes to Tel Aviv conference, featuring partners from VCs Andreessen Horowitz, Coatue Management and Spark Capital. Sponsored by Ventura Partners. Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
June 20-22, Doha, Qatar: Qatar Economic Forum, sponsored by Bloomberg, focuses on new Middle East frontiers for technology. Ritz-Carlton, Doha.
Celebrating Israel in Bahrain: Hundreds of people turned out for an Israel Independence Day party hosted by Israel’s new embassy in Bahrain. The event, which was the first time the Israeli government held a large-scale celebration for the national holiday in a Gulf Arab nation, drew government officials and business executives from both countries, according to the embassy. Headlining the affair was singer and “Fauda” star Tsahi Halevi. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry band played the Israeli and Bahraini national anthems at the party, which was catered by Israeli chef Doron Sasson. Israel’s ambassador to Bahrain, Eitan Na’eh, said the event demonstrated “the authentic, warm and genuine relationship” that has developed between the two countries since they signed the Abraham Accords in September 2020.
Saudi Arts Complex: Construction has begun on a massive Royal Arts Complex in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The 125-acre project, located in the city’s King Salman Park, will include a 2,300-seat capacity National Theatre, a 330-foot-high Museum of World Cultures and the Royal Institute of Traditional Arts. In its sculpture pavilion, the complex will have three cinemas, two theaters and a library devoted to art and culture holding a collection of more than 250,000 books.
All that Glitters: Warner Music Group announced the launch of Warner Music Israel in Tel Aviv, which will promote both the New York-based entertainment company’s international stars and popular Israeli artists such as Noga Erez and Noa Kirel.