Shmuel Bar, a former Israeli intelligence officer and founder of a company that sifts social media messages for terrorist threats, was recently disinvited from speaking on a panel at a London think tank. He was told that since a Saudi official would be attending the session, the Israeli couldn’t be seen in attendance with him. As related last week in Bloomberg Businessweek, “Bar told the organizers that he and the Saudi gentleman had, in fact, been planning to have lunch together at a Moroccan restaurant nearby before walking over to the event together.”
Such is the reality for Israelis who do business with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which pay lip service to the Arab boycott of Israel. Business relationships and security cooperation are growing among these countries — all of which share concerns about Iran, the Islamic State and other destabilizing forces in the region.
According to most reports, it is the lack of a solution to the Palestinian issue that keeps Muslim countries from acknowledging the growing interactions with the Jewish state. But something will have to give sooner or later, with or without an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Indeed, according to Businessweek: “The volume and range of Israeli activity in at least six Gulf countries is getting hard to hide. One Israeli entrepreneur set up companies in Europe and the U.S. that installed more than $6 billion in security infrastructure for the United Arab Emirates, using Israeli engineers.”
What is amazing is the alternate reality in which these relationships exist. Thus, in documenting the Businessweek story, for example, reporters received an email statement from a source in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, “denying any trade links between Israel and Saudi Arabia.” The statement then went on to add that only countries with a “friendly” trade agreement could do business with the kingdom — implying that since Israel does not have a friendly relationship with the kingdom, any such cooperation would be impossible. Given the overwhelming evidence of multiple economic and political interactions, who do these guys think they are fooling?
One way of looking at the current state of affairs is to marvel at just how ingrained Israeli companies and technologies are in their layered dealings in the wider Middle East — this in spite of a boycott stretching back decades. But before anyone pats themselves on the back, it is important to recognize that the fact that Arab states are continuing the charade of the boycott means that there is a way to go to bring relationships in the region into some semblance of normalcy. It is time to get that done. It is way beyond time for Israel’s neighbors to call a spade a spade, stop the hateful rhetoric of seeking to delegitimize Israel, and use the reality of increased commerce, cooperation and areas of mutual interest to bury the hatchet.