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Israel relations

Israel cancels participation in UAE defense expo, citing COVID-19 curbs on travel

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Israel has cancelled its planned participation in a major defense expo in the United Arab Emirates next week due to COVID-19 curbs on air travel, Israeli officials said on Monday.

Dozens of Israeli defense firms had been due to take part in the IDEX conference in Abu Dhabi from Feb. 21-25 - a first for both countries, which last September established formal relations after closing ranks given their shared worries about Iran.

But officials from Israel’s Defense Ministry and Regional Cooperation Ministry said the plan was cancelled. They cited Israel’s Jan. 26 ban on international air travel, which is still in force as it tries to reverse a surge in COVID-19 contagion.

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A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said it requested special permission for the firms to fly out to the UAE capital, but was refused by a Regional Cooperation Ministry authorization panel.

A Regional Cooperation Ministry spokesman said the request “had to be denied, despite the desire to advance promote defense activity, and given the need to making unprejudiced decisions”

The business newspaper Globes quoted an unidentified senior representative of an Israeli defense firm as saying that the cancellation would spell “huge” losses of deals to competitors.

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“The Emirati hosts were supremely friendly and rolled out the red carpet. We were meant to have been the focus of the expo, with several top-of-the-line products and exhibits,” the representative was quoted as saying. “All that, for nothing?”

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Israel and the UAE had, as part of their US-backed rapprochement, proposed defense and military cooperation.

But anticipated exchanges of defense delegations have yet to happen - a byproduct, Israeli sources said, of coalition feuding between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz as they prepare to contest a March ballot.