A year ago, what seemed impossible for many and known only to few, happened: Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed the historic Abraham Accords.
The flurry of activity in this first year has been impressive and signals the great untapped potential for more collaboration. Since the ceremony on the White House lawn, these two countries have been able to overcome obstacles from pandemics to political violence to move past these first steps and set the stage for an entirely new chapter in the story of the Children of Abraham.
As these two nations interlinked their destinies, pledging responsibility to and for one another, a new technological covenant has emerged. A covenant that models the endless possibilities to meet critical regional and global human needs through mutually beneficial technological cooperation.
From the moment the historic block on the phone lines was lifted and the first commercial flights between Tel-Aviv and Abu Dhabi lifted off, these two nations have embarked on a historic journey to a new future. From ice hockey to the endangered hubara bustard bird, diverse and imaginative initiatives for cooperation have stretched across all sectors.
Among the achievements of the past year are ten ground-breaking agreements and memoranda of understanding that have been signed and ratified or are in the process of ratification, providing the framework of this new phase of Israel-UAE relations and bilateral trade that is expected to reach over $1 billion by the end of the year and $6.5 billion by 2025.
To support it all, in March 2021, a $10 billion UAE investment fund was established in and alongside Israel, across sectors including energy manufacturing, water, space, health care and agritech, and from October 2021 Israel will participate in Dubai’s six-month global expo with a pavilion modelled on Abraham’s Tent.
Famously open on all sides to welcome visitors from every direction, Abraham’s tent was the tech hub of its time. A meeting place built on an acknowledgement of the humanity of all people and the power of gathering together diverse ideas and new ways of thinking to face the challenges of a new era. The technological covenant being shaped by the Abraham Accords builds upon this vision to leave rigid ideas behind and move forward in actively building a generation equipped to positively influence uncertain futures – to write a new story.
Last week’s wave of anniversary events was marked by celebrating an almost mind-boggling set of financial projections that estimate almost $1 trillion in future trade. However, it is the story behind these numbers that will cement this new technological covenant. A story of future cooperation to meet basic human needs, highlights Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council and deputy mayor of Jerusalem. Cooperation on challenges as ancient as the Abrahamic narrative itself, the need for food, water, health security and secure cities with secure communications.
It is in these key stories that we see the model for a new technological covenant take shape. A covenant that can extend the potential benefits of the continued cooperation and disruptive innovation of Abraham’s children to the Middle East, to Africa and to LMICs globally.
The desert landscape of the UAE is one of the main reasons it is forced to import approximately 90 per cent of all agricultural produce and food. While Israel does not have a natural nor sensible landscape for agriculture either, its strategic decisions to invest in establishing a strong ecosystem for food security in its early days led to its reputation as a leader in innovative agriculture and water technologies. The necessity of food security was made painfully clear during the Covid-19 pandemic, with borders closing and supply routes drying up quickly, but the UAE government was quick to announce its commitment, to invest in sustainable agriculture and increase its self-sufficiency to make sure the desert will bloom and feed its people for years to come.
Danielle Abraham, CEO of Volcani International Partnerships, who has experience in promoting Israeli agricultural expertise and projects in the Arab Gulf/UAE, both before and after the Accords, highlights that “there is immense potential to advance R&D and agritech innovation together to create more sustainable and resilient food systems ... Considering the challenging agricultural conditions facing both countries, a focus on developing solutions for climate-resilient agriculture presents an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen both sectors respectively and position Israel and the Gulf as a much-needed innovation hub for the world."
This new covenant for collaboration on agritech, foodtech and climate tech can open a new chapter on regional approaches to sowing the seeds of a sustainable future
Covid-19 highlighted the urgency of improving regional and global collaboration on health security. While the coincidence of Covid-19 and the Abraham Accords may have given the impetus for initial cooperation, it also paved the way for a new covenant for health security.
Marwan Ibrahim Nasser, chairman and managing director of the Al Tadawi Healthcare Group, says that “using the outsourcing model for medical solutions and leveraging Dubai’s advanced infrastructure for remote services, we seek to contribute to Dubai Health Authority’s efforts to further develop the emirate’s health-care facilities.” The agreements with Israel’s medical centres have opened the door to the multiple collaborations and enormous value to be realised with a covenant on health security. Through leveraging the UAE’s state-of-the-art facilities with Israeli medical research, expertise and institutional knowledge, they could establish an “innovative medical hub” to leapfrog progress in the entire region’s health-care systems.
Both Israel and UAE are leaders in emerging clean tech. Israel is ranked second in the latest Global Cleantech Innovation Index, and the UAE is home to Masdar City, one of the world’s most environmentally friendly cities, several of the world’s largest and most efficient solar fields, as well as the Middle East’s first Carbon Capture and storage facility. Initiatives such as the Middle East Aquarius KIP, which will invest up to $1.2 billion to establish a UAE manufacturing facility for automotive products based on the Israeli-developed lightweight linear engine that runs on hydrogen gas, and the water-from-air generators developed by the Israeli company Watergen now popping up in beaches and parks in Abu Dhabi herald a vibrant future for a clean tech covenant.
Asher Fredman, a founding member of the UAE-Israel Business Council and CEO of Gulf-Israel Green Ventures, emphasises that such “successful initiatives between the Abraham Accords countries will demonstrate the benefits of peace not only for countering common threats, but for improving the lives and quality of life of people throughout the region.”
The technologies and methods emerging from Israeli-Emirati collaboration on shared human needs from renewable energy, energy efficiency, green construction and environmental preservation, can have far-reaching impacts across the globe and in particular in the developing world.
More Secure Smarter Cities
The UAE is a front-runner in the quest to be a global leader in smart cities, leveraging technologies to be networked and smart in every sense. From driverless taxis, smart pods to eco-houses, the UAE’s highly acclaimed smart cities depend on information and communication technologies connecting across areas through networks of sensors, cameras and data gathering devices. Its ever more ambitious goals for seamless functionality between these infrastructures and new technologies needs to be underpinned by strong cybersecurity. As Ronen Sasson, CEO of CommuniTake Technologies highlights, securing communications will become critical for the UAE to enable access to the benefits of its adoption of interconnected technologies within its smart cities.
As the UAE’s sophisticated critical infrastructure system and expanding digital surfaces increase its vulnerability to sabotage and ransomware attacks, it is a natural partner for the home of a third of the world’s cyber unicorns. Among the earliest meetings following the signing of the Accords was the meeting between Yigal Unna, head of Israel’s Cyber Directorate, and his UAE counterpart Mohammed al-Kuwaiti, proposing initiatives on joint cyber defence to protect the UAE. Frameworks for sharing insights and analytics, joint cybersecurity exercises and emergency-response teams to respond to common threats may take the covenant on cybersecurity technologies beyond regional centres on cyber resilience to the Global Cybernet Shield envisioned by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Cyber Week 2021.
Cybersecurity is not only a shared strategic threat for Israel and the UAE but also, as Chairman of the Cyber Security Group General Doron Tami (ret.) points out, “a huge opportunity to become a growth engine for both economies.” The Israeli representation at events such as Cybertech 2021 in Dubai and the upcoming Dubai Expo will help develop local innovation ecosystems and large-scale private-sector involvement necessary for a thriving cyber economy that will help the region and countries globally counter threats in cyberspace.
The story of Israel and the UAE’s tomorrow is indeed only just beginning. The first year has been, as Zafrir Asaf, partner at Blue Laurel Advisors, highlights “the culmination of the relations that were cultivated under the radar in past years.” As cultural and trust barriers lift further, these chapters will tell stories of what Dr Sabah Al-Binali, calls “a partnership of prosperity that will warm the economies of both countries and transform the lives of millions in the region.” And whilst entering into covenant means taking risks and a leap of faith into an uncertain future, as the UAE’s Minister of Food and Water Security, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri emphasises, both countries are “nations of problem-solvers.”
So the next chapters will also likely tell stories of the possibilities of turning the “region into a global powerhouse of FinTech capability” through uniting Israeli technological innovation with the UAE’s financial expertise and international reach. Stories of breakthroughs from shared research on biotechnology, from alternative proteins to precision and personal medicine. Chapters in a powerful story of two nations leading the way in a new Abrahamic covenant for the technological era. A covenant that can serve as a model for nations to harness the joint innovation potential of dreamers and problem solvers to meet humanity’s greatest future challenges.