The IDEX and NAVDEX defence exhibitions in Abu Dhabi were meant to usher in a new era in Israeli and UAE relations, but now Israel's presence at the show is in doubt after an official committee did not approve the flights of some 250 Israelis from the Ministry of Defence and defence companies.
Israel's Ben Gurion airport is closed because of the pandemic. A committee was formed to approve special cases for flights, but it denied the request of the Israeli delegations. Efforts are underway to try and reverse the decision.
Following the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel last August under the Abraham Accords, some 50 Israeli defence companies were scheduled to attend the IDEX and NAVDEX exhibitions (21-25 February) for the first time this year. Some of the biggest names in Israeli defence — Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Elbit Systems — have their own booths at the event. Smaller Israeli companies plan to display their capabilities on the booths of foreign companies, some from the UAE.
In recent years, Israeli companies have been very active in the UAE in the fields of cybersecurity and big data analysis, providing Abu Dhabi with niche capabilities to advance shared Israeli-Emirati interests. Israel has already sold defence assets — $250 million worth of electronic and signals intelligence and eavesdropping equipment. Saudi Arabia is also believed to be interested in purchasing Israel's Iron Dome advanced air defence system to defend against Houthi attacks, but a deal has not been made yet.
Ahead of the IDEX and NAVDEX shows, Rafael President and CEO, Yoav Har-Even, said it was looking forward to sharing capabilities such as its advanced artificial intelligence, Big Data analysis and cyber defence solutions with its partners in the Middle East.
Rafael plans on showcasing its AI capabilities for autonomous land navigation in GPS-denied environments, autonomous mission planning and situational awareness, using highly-capable electro-optical sensor systems. In the naval domain it plans to exhibit its TYPHOON C-UAS Naval Remote Weapon Station and Naval SPIKE, the maritime version of the well-known SPIKE guided missile, as well as advanced electronic-warfare solutions and its Vessel Protection Suite (VPS), a networked solution for asymmetric naval warfare against surface and air swarms.
IAI plans to exhibit a wide range of systems with an emphasis on aerospace, civil aviation, mission aircraft and comprehensive operational solutions for a wide range of applications in the air, at sea, on land, and in the space and cyber domains. Its main focus is on promoting communication and co-operation with local government agencies, defence forces, industry and academia, in order to expand the company’s activity in the region.
Boaz Levy, IAI'S president said that the company sees its activities in the UAE as an opportunity to promote co-operation and defence as well as civilian endeavours on a range of topics such as space and satellites, air defence, rocketry, intelligence, robotics, UAVs and cyber. “[The IDEX] exhibition is a harbinger of long-term activity in the UAE,” he says, “and in the region as a whole. Efforts are being made to try and change the committee's decision.”