Following the lifting of the ban on Israelis on its soil, dozens of businessmen with Israeli passports landed in Saudi Arabia. Their goal: to take advantage of the warmth in relations between the countries to advance bilateral economic agreements. These visits resulted in two contracts in the field of desert agriculture worth millions of dollars, in addition to the medical equipment contract. Danny Zaken The United States is mediating between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to normalize relations. On the agenda is also the issue of ending the passage of the islands of Tirana and Sanafir in the Red Sea to Saudi sovereignty. But normalization with Saudi Arabia, although not officially announced, is already close. This is reflected in the major agreements recently signed, the visits of businessmen with Israeli passports and special visas to Saudi Arabia, and the advanced contacts for investment in Israel by Saudi businessmen and the funds of investment companies.
A source familiar with the matter told the Globes: “For more than twenty years, we have had an indirect relationship with Saudi Arabia, but I do not remember ever seeing a boom like the one we have seen in recent months.” These business connections have been behind the scenes, mainly through companies registered in Europe or elsewhere, and agreements have been signed in these countries – in sectors ranging from civilian to security.
The Globes has learned that months ago, Saudi Arabia allowed Israeli businessmen – most of whom are representatives and CEOs of Israeli technology companies invited by the Saudis – to enter its territory with Israeli passports with special entry visas. The change that has taken place in recent months is the lifting of the general ban that was and the facilitation of procedures for issuing special visas.
Dozens of businessmen took the opportunity to visit Riyadh, the economic center of Saudi Arabia, as well as other places like NEOM, the city of the future being built off the Red Sea coast. The city was also visited by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in November 2020, a meeting attended by then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
These visits resulted in several agreements, including two multi-million dollar agreements for desert agriculture. According to an informed source, these projects use Israeli water technology needed for the Saudi desert climate, along with other Israeli farming techniques. These two technologies are closely monitored by the monarchy, with the aim of developing them as part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to achieve food security and self-sufficiency.
These projects are important for the entire Middle East, as they also show other countries in the region Israel’s ability to help in areas of particular importance to countries suffering from food shortages.
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Israeli businessmen and agricultural technology connoisseurs are not surprised by the Saudi investment. “Apart from direct diplomatic contact – and direct bank transfers – we have everything we need between the countries to maintain a trade relationship, sign agreements and transfer goods and knowledge,” a man on Israeli affairs told Globus. .
Irresistible interest in startups
Globus learned that as part of this latest activity, other agreements have been signed in the sectors of agriculture and civil technologies such as medical equipment (Medtech). Moreover, there is a growing interest in investing not only in start-ups, but also in proven Israeli products. The same sources believe that these transactions are on the verge of signing and will precede the institutional investments that will be made through the Saudi Public Investment Fund (sovereign wealth fund).
“What is interesting is that it is the private sector, on both sides, that is doing things fast,” said Dr. Nirit Ophir, CEO of the Israel-GCC Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Businessmen are not limited by diplomatic matters, and when personal and commercial interests come together, they move forward,” she added. It shows that unlike the UAE, transactions are made between businessmen in the private trading sector and not between the two countries.
Israel recruiting for Saudi oil talks
More confirmation of Israeli activity in Saudi Arabia comes from Riyadh. An informed source, a senior Saudi official, told the Globes that the number of visa applications for Israelis submitted by Saudi businessmen is growing, as well as the rapidly growing interest and thirst for information about Israeli technologies. The source adds that meetings between businessmen from both sides are also taking place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, as well as in Manama, the capital of Bahrain.
“The government sees here the natural potentials in this activity, which are in line with the plans and major reforms that the Crown Prince is promoting.”
Security and intelligence relations are important to both countries, largely because of a common enemy: Iran. A number of reports showed the sale of Israeli security systems to Saudi Arabia. This common interest has created the necessary common ground in other regions and has given Israel much more geopolitical leverage than it had in the past. Take a look at recent U.S. efforts to call on Israel to help persuade Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, in the face of the global energy shortage caused by Russia’s occupation of Ukraine.
The Saudis, who have been consistently disappointed by the United States in recent years, disagreed. This week, two advisers to US President Joe Biden arrived in Saudi Arabia to push the issue forward. The talks will also raise – according to US sources – the issue of strengthening economic and trade relations with Israel.
First, the Saudis accuse the Palestinians
Officially, Saudi Arabia is concerned about public relations with Israel. The Saudis make it clear in any case that progress with Israel will only come after progress with the Palestinians. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan reiterated this week: “Israel’s integration into the region will be very beneficial not only for Israel, but for the entire region. But without addressing the fundamental issues of the Palestinian people and without the respect and sovereignty of the Palestinian people through the creation of the Palestinian state, instability and threats to the security of Israel and the security of the entire region will continue.
Unofficially, however, the Saudis are blaming the Palestinians, as reported on social media. Pictures of stones, Molotov cocktails and other primitive weapons brought by Palestinian youths to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have sparked outrage in Saudi Arabia. The diplomatic shift to Israel is likely to take place only after the official handover of power from King Salman to his son, Mohammed. But economic change is already in place and the pace is accelerating.
Awaiting Kushner’s private equity fund
Saudi Arabia’s ongoing confrontation with Iran, both over the nuclear issue (especially during the Iran 2015 nuclear deal) and the civil war in Yemen, has led to new understandings between Saudi Arabia and Israel, this time in the field of security. . . and intelligence. The growing momentum in civil relations came in the wake of the Ibrahim Accord that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed with Saudi Arabia’s neighbors: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The largely positive way in which Saudi public opinion obtained the deal, as well as its economic and other benefits, paved the way for the expansion of these relations. For example, the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia does not apply to authorizing aircraft of destination and origin in Israel to travel to Saudi territory, on routes between Israel and the Emirates and Bahrain in the Far East.
The Wall Street Journal reported that an important step, taken in recent weeks, toward normalizing relations and allowing it to emerge from the shadows, was a $ 2 billion Saudi investment in the son-created private equity fund. and Jared Kushner. . In the law of former US President Donald Trump. The $ 3 billion fund aims to invest in Israeli high-tech companies.
This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has invested in Israeli companies: Through the investment fund of another former Trump administration official, Steven Mnuchin, the kingdom is investing in Israeli startups operating in the United States that have agreements with the Department of U.S. Defense. . Themelimi. , including internet companies Zimperium and Cybereason. But the investment in the Kouchner fund comes from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, with the direct approval of Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s administrator and strongman.
Published by Globes, Israel Business News – en.globes.co.il – May 30, 2022.
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