Dec 2, 2020 - World

Israel fears tourists in UAE could become Iranian targets

Arriving in Dubai. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli officials are concerned that Israelis visiting Dubai could become the targets of Iranian retaliation over the assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Why it matters: The UAE is one of the only destinations open to Israeli travelers at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions. Israeli officials expect thousands of Israelis to visit Dubai during the Hanukkah holiday, less than two weeks from now.

The state of play: The Iranian government holds Israel responsible for the assassination. Several senior Iranian military and civilian officials have threatened revenge “in the right time."

  • The Israeli Security Cabinet was briefed on Sunday that it was unclear when and how the Iranians would retaliate, but Israeli institutions and tourists could be under threat.
  • Fearing Iranian retaliation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent a cable to all Israeli missions abroad ordering them to raise their levels of vigilance to the maximum.
  • Israeli diplomats were ordered to report any unusual incidents around embassies, consulates, the houses of diplomatic staff, and Israeli or Jewish community centers.

Driving the news: Israeli officials told me the UAE and Bahrain — which are currently opening to Israeli tourists — are under high threat levels due to their close proximity to Iran, and to Iranian intelligence activity in those countries.

  • On Tuesday, the first commercial flight to Dubai departed from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv with around 200 Israeli tourists. Several dozen more flights are expected in the coming weeks. Israeli airliners have been targeted by terror attacks many times in the past.
  • Hundreds of Israeli government officials and businesspeople are expected to arrive in Dubai next week for a tech conference that is still scheduled to take place.

The UAE condemned the Fakhrizadeh assassination and warned against further escalation.

  • The Emiratis are concerned that they could be the targets of Iranian retaliation, like the attacks on oil tankers earlier this year.

What’s next: Netanyahu wanted to visit the UAE and Bahrain this week but his trip was postponed for scheduling reasons several days before the Fakhrizadeh killing. It's now supposed to take place later this month.

  • Israeli and Emirati officials say it's now unclear if the visit will take place, both for security reasons and due to political sensitivities.
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