In first, Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev today arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to attend the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament.
Regev was invited to attend the event earlier this month to accompany Israel’s national judo team as they compete in the Emirati capital. President of the International Judo Federation (IJF), Marius Vizer, wrote to Regev on 2 October to invite her to the tournament and promised to “make all the necessary arrangements for [her] visit”.
The invitation came after the IJF demanded that the UAE allow the Israeli team to play its national anthem and fly its flag during the tournament. The event had previously been threatened with cancellation after the IJF stripped the UAE of the right to host the tournament due to its failure to guarantee “equal treatment” for Israeli athletes. In September, the UAE accepted the IJF’s conditions and allowed the Israeli judoists to sport their national insignia.
Regev’s attendance at the event – which is taking place from 25-27 October – will be seen as controversial in light of the lack of official relations between Israel and the UAE. In addition, Israeli passports are not valid for travel to the UAE.
However, the UAE has recently been pursuing a policy of normalisation with Israel. In September, it hosted secret backchannel talks between Israel and Turkey in an attempt to mend strained Israeli-Turkish relations. Envoys from the two countries flew into Abu Dhabi via Amman, Jordan, though neither government would confirm the purpose of the talks.
In August, an Israeli journalist claimed that an Emirati pilot participated in the bombing of Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip during his training on Israeli Air Force F-35 fighters. Cohen, the journalist who made the claims, also accused Dubai’s Deputy Chairman of Police and Public Security, General Dhahi Khalfan, of being complicit in assassinating Hamas leader Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010.
In June, an exposé by the New Yorker revealed that Israel and the UAE have been engaged in secret normalisation talks since the 1990s. The report disclosed that “the secret relationship between Israel and the UAE can be traced back to a series of meetings in a nondescript office in Washington D.C. after the signing of the Oslo Accords”. These meetings discussed the possibility of the UAE purchasing F-16 fighter jets from the US which are known to be comprised of Israeli technology. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed, also gave his blessing for delegations of influential American Jews to be brought to Abu Dhabi to meet with Emirati officials and establish an intelligence-sharing relationship.