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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.

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - World

Scoop: Sudan wants to seal Israel normalization deal at White House

Burhan. Photo: Mazen Mahdi/AFP via Getty

Three months after Sudan agreed to normalize relations with Israel, it still hasn't signed an agreement to formally do so. Israeli officials tell me one reason has now emerged: Sudan wants to sign the deal at the White House.

Driving the news: Israel sent Sudan a draft agreement for establishing diplomatic relations several weeks ago, but the Sudanese didn’t reply, the officials say. On Tuesday, Israeli Minister of Intelligence Eli Cohen raised that issue in Khartoum during the first-ever visit of an Israeli minister to Sudan.

Jan 26, 2021 - World

Biden administration lays out its policies on Israel-Palestine at the UN

Biden with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010. Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The Biden administration today laid out its policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stressed its intention to renew ties with the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: The Trump administration dramatically changed U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Biden's policies, laid out for the first time today, will shift the U.S. back to the more traditional positions held by previous Democratic and Republican administrations.

Jan 27, 2021 - World

Israel's COVID crisis deepens even as the vaccination rate climbs

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters clash with security forces over lockdown enforcement Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to declare victory over the pandemic before the elections on March 23, but new fast-spreading variants of COVID-19 have dashed those hopes.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's main political vulnerability is his handling of the pandemic. He has acknowledged that his poll numbers will be directly connected to the rates of vaccinations, new infections and deaths, as well as his ability to reopen the economy.