The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
As Benjamin Netanyahu begins coalition talks this week, charting a course to becoming prime minister again, and the United Nations climate summit wraps up in Egypt, the world’s attention turns to Qatar as hundreds of thousands of fans pour into the Gulf state for the 2022 soccer World Cup, which starts play on Sunday. Mixed in the crowds, The Circuit reports, will be Israeli and Palestinian fans whose governments reached a last-minute agreement with Qatar and tournament organizers Nov. 10 to provide direct flights between Israel and Qatar, which don’t have diplomatic relations.
One issue that unites the fractious Middle East is the vulnerability of every country in the region to climate change. At the COP27 environmental conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, The Circuit reports that Israeli government and business leaders are pressing for new alliances with Arab states to develop regional solutions for shared problems such as desertification and food insecurity. Some of those issues will also be discussed this week at the annual Milken Institute Middle East and Africa Summit in Abu Dhabi.
Restaurants in the United Arab Emirates are hitting their stride as the Michelin Guide awards stars to three of Abu Dhabi’s top temples of cuisine. Details in the Culture Circuit below, which also spotlights Israel’s “Soundtrack” festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, which celebrates the marriage of movies and music. The UAE’s capital city will come alive on Sunday for the Abu Dhabi 2022 Grand Prix, one of the top Formula One car races.
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Qatar World Cup draws thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, direct flights or not
Israel has no diplomatic relations with Qatar, and its national soccer team didn’t qualify for the 2022 World Cup. That won’t stop thousands of Israel fans from pouring into the oil-rich Gulf state this week to join the frenzied crowds at the most-watched sporting event on earth, Alec Pollard reports for The Circuit.
Waiting game: It wasn’t until 10 days before the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador, set for Sunday, that world soccer’s ruling body, known as FIFA, worked out a plan for direct flights between Israel and Qatar that satisfied political and security leaders in both countries. By then, most Israelis with tickets to the nearly monthlong tournament had booked flights with layovers in third countries.
Staying low-key: While Israelis are barred by statute from entry into Qatar, the country agreed to honor Israeli passports as a condition for the highly sought rights to host the World Cup. Still, many Israelis, generally known for their boisterous character, say they’ll try to keep things low-key at the games. “The vibe is to go and enjoy the football and not try to stand out or anything,” Elon Grubman, a 32-year-old Israeli born in Brazil, told The Circuit.
Hard work: When FIFA finally announced the agreement for direct charter flights on Nov. 10, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid hailed the move as “great news for football fans and for all Israelis,” adding that it was the result of “hard work over the course of many months.” Israel will also be allowed to open a temporary consular office to assist fans with lost passports and medical emergencies.
Flying together: In expressing his “delight” at solving the visa problem, FIFA President Gianni Infantino also announced that the deal meant “Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly together and enjoy football together.” Given the tight security protocols that Israel has practiced for decades in restricting Palestinian travelers through Ben Gurion International Airport, it’s unclear whether such joint flights will materialize. Like the Israelis, though, most Palestinians didn’t wait to book their flights.
Palestinian dream: Walid Jouda, a resident of the Gaza Strip, was standing in line yesterday afternoon at the heavily guarded southern border of the coastal enclave, waiting for permission to enter Egypt and fly to Doha through Cairo. “I’m a football addict so seeing the matches live in Qatar is going to be amazing,” said Jouda, 35, an information technology administrator for a United Nations agency in Gaza City, who is rooting for Argentina. “Maybe one day Palestine will qualify for the World Cup, but that’s still a dream.”
Mideast mulls alliances at U.N. conference to avert environmental catastrophe
From lab-cultured milk to hydrogen-based power generation, Israelis sought to share expertise in desert agriculture, alternative energy and food security with new Arab partners at the United Nations climate change summit and establish alliances across the Middle East and North Africa, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports.
Regional resilience: The campaign was led by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who said cooperation would lead to “regional climate resilience,” in a Nov. 7 address to the COP27 conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. A nonprofit industry group, Start-Up Nation Central, sought to foster connections with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and other countries that have signed peace agreements or normalized relations with Israel through an initiative it dubbed the MENA Alliance for Climate Innovation.
Moving forward: “We want to create a business-focused framework with partners from the region to connect startups with investors and corporations, and to work together to develop solutions addressing shared climate challenges,” Yariv Becher, Start-Up Nation Central’s vice president for innovation diplomacy, told The Circuit from Sharm el-Sheikh. “We came to COP27 to move things forward.”
On the brink: Israel, which has the third-largest number of startups per capita in the world, has developed an international reputation for the quality of its research in desalination and desert agriculture. That has created natural linkages with its new allies in the world’s driest region, which extends from the Arabian desert to the Sahara. Israeli companies have developed partnerships in the UAE and Bahrain that enable them to do business in Saudi Arabia and other countries that don’t have formal diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Warning that the region is “on the brink of catastrophe,” Herzog laid out a framework for regional cooperation in addressing climate challenges.
Solar power: Also at the conference, cabinet ministers from Israel, Jordan and the UAE signed a memorandum of understanding that lays the groundwork for creating solar energy fields in Jordan. The three-way agreement will enable Jordan to sell solar power from the solar field built by an Emirati firm, while Israel will sell desalinated water to Jordan from a site that will be built on the Mediterranean coast.
Read the full story here.
Sustainability Hub: Japan’s Mitsubishi Power plans to invest heavily in the Middle East and North Africa, betting on the region emerging as a world center for sustainable energy.
Burger Boat: A burger restaurant that floats in the Persian Gulf started a jet-ski delivery service catering to yachts and islands off the coast of Dubai.
Bus Fare: Commuters in Abu Dhabi will be able to pay their fares by depositing plastic bottles for recycling in a vending machine in the city’s main bus terminal.
Flying Taxis: Abu Dhabi Airports and French engineering company Group ADP signed an agreement paving the way for flying taxis to take travelers to their hotels when the vehicles are introduced in the future.
Green Mosques: Mosques in Saudi Arabia will recycle gray water used for ablutions before prayer to irrigate hundreds of trees and create more green spaces on their grounds.
Port Loan: A group led by Indian billionaire Gautam Adani lined up financing to buy Israel’s Haifa Port, securing $500 million from lenders led by Mizrahi Tefahot Bank.
Digital Change: Abu Dhabi’s G42 Cloud signed an agreement with SAP, the third-biggest software company, to help companies accelerate use of cloud technology.
Sports Tech: Swiss sports marketing company Infront has acquired Israel’s Pico Get Personal, whose technology helps manage data about audience share.
Investment Hub: Dubai was ranked the world’s largest hub for foreign direct investment in the first half of 2022, with an 80% bump from the same period last year.
Internet Threats: Saudi Arabia’s Sirar, a cybersecurity unit of telecom company stc, will work together as a partner with Palo Alto Networks to combat growing internet threats.
Cyber Targets: Thoma Bravo, one of the world’s largest investment firms, is in talks to invest in at least six Israeli cybersecurity companies, partner Robert Sayle said.
On the Circuit
Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the bankrupt FTX cryptocurrency exchange, reportedly tried to raise cash in the UAE and Saudi Arabia last month before his empire came crashing down.
Mohamed Mansour, an Egyptian billionaire, is reducing investments in Twitter and Meta and boosting involvement in electric vehicles and other green projects.
Yiftah Ron-Tal resigned as chairman of Migdal Insurance, Israel’s second-largest insurer, because of disagreements with controlling shareholder Shlomo Eliahu.
Maher Chmaytelli was appointed as editor-in-chief of the new CNN Business Arabic service after a career in which he worked for Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg and AFP.
Ahead on the Circuit
Nov. 14-18, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt: United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP 27). Second week of international conference on global efforts at protecting the environment. Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre.
Nov. 15-16, Tel Aviv, Israel: Israel Hotel Investment Summit. Investors, hoteliers, real estate companies gather to discuss hotel, tourism projects. Intercontinental David Hotel.
Nov. 15-16, New York: CyberTechNYC. New York City Mayor Eric Adams addresses Israeli-sponsored conference focused on cybersecurity startups, which will feature a panel including cyber officials from Israel, the UAE and the U.S. Javits Center.
Nov. 17-18, Abu Dhabi, UAE: The Milken Institute Middle East and Africa Summit. Experts gather to ponder the future of the region in realms of business and geopolitics. Rosewood Hotel.
Nov. 20, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Abu Dhabi 2022 Grand Prix. Top Formula One drivers compete in one of the premier auto races. Yas Island.
Michelin’s Best: The Michelin Guide awarded one star to each of three restaurants in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital: Hakkasan, which serves Chinese food; Talea by Antonio Guida, with Italian cuisine; and the 99 Sushi Bar, a Japanese restaurant. Dubai has two Michelin two-star restaurants: Il Ristorante – Niko Romito and STAY by Yannick Alleno. Nine restaurants in Dubai qualified for one Michelin star.
High Note: The Tel Aviv Cinematheque is running a festival this week called “Soundtrack,” which celebrates the connection between music and movies. Selected films range from “The Sound of Music” starring Julie Andrews and “The Muppet Movie,” to the ‘70s Blaxploitation flick “Superfly” and the reggae classic, “The Harder They Come.”