Israeli tourists in Dubai remain defiant in face of security threats

Flydubai to add third daily flight due to unprecedented demand

DUBAI – Despite security warnings, Israeli tourists continue to flood into Dubai with Flydubai, the United Arab Emirates’ first airline to offer direct routes, now adding a third daily flight between Dubai International and Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion starting December 10, due to the massive demand.

Israel’s National Security Council warned last week, in a tougher than usual statement, that Iran may try to attack Israelis overseas, urging greater vigilance. The warnings came as a result of the assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, for which Iran has openly blamed Israel, though no one has claimed responsibility. However, from the glitzy downtown area of Dubai to the historic old town, it is impossible to avoid Israelis. From the religious to the secular, forecasts expect 15,000 to arrive in Dubai in December.

The United Arab Emirates is one of just three green, quarantine-free countries for Israelis to travel to currently due to the pandemic, alongside the Seychelles and Rwanda; others previously available, including Greece, have recently been removed. Since normalization was announced on August 13, Israelis are hungry to experience the glitz and glamour of the small Gulf nation.

This week, coming for culture and business, thousands of Israelis are coming to Dubai for major events and conferences including Israeli Innovation Day at the GITEX technology conference, one of Dubai’s largest annual trade shows.

Nir Tsuk has just arrived in Dubai to offer entrepreneurship training to the Dubai chapter of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO). The New York University professor said the warnings would not deter Israelis who have long been used to living with such threats.

A general view shows the area outside the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, mostly deserted, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates March 25, 2020. Picture taken March 25, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/TAREK FAHMY)
A general view shows the area outside the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, mostly deserted, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates March 25, 2020. Picture taken March 25, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/TAREK FAHMY)

After a long year of lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions, he said Israelis are itching to break free of “the ghetto.”

“The eagerness to travel and to feel we are part of the world is much stronger than all these threats and warnings,” Tsuk said. “I’m sure some people are paying attention to it, but we have these warnings all the time. And to be honest, I think for Israelis, the threat of coronavirus is a bigger worry than any threat from Iran. That’s what people ask me about when I travel, not Iran.”

SECURITY EXPERTS say the UAE has one of the highest concentrations of surveillance cameras in the world, a phenomenon that has only grown since the pandemic. Its crime rates also remain one of the world’s lowest.

However, Israelis are no strangers to threats while traveling. In 2000, an ex-IDF colonel was lured to Dubai by Hezbollah, where he was abducted. He was held captive in Lebanon for four years before a prisoner exchange took place that finally led to his release. In 2012, a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was attacked by Hezbollah agents, killing six and wounding dozens. During the same year, Israel accused Iran of attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in Thailand and India.

Yaniv Stainberg, who runs Privilege Tourism in Israel, says the novel coronavirus remains the biggest factor in Israelis’ travel plans. In addition, the fact that Israelis can travel visa-free into Dubai means last minute plans are easy to book.

“Even though rates have jumped up this month by about 50%, Israelis feel they have been trapped at home, many of them not working for seven or eight months, and are starving to travel – however they make it happen,” he said. “Some are so desperate to travel they’re even taking loans.”

On his second trip to the Emirates since normalization, Charles Ashkenazi has just arrived in Dubai:

“Everything feels safe. I walked around with a kippah for two weeks the last time I was here. I have a feeling I don’t even have all over Europe. Even with the threat of Iran, I can say that I really feel I am in one of the safest places outside Israel. We won’t let terror win, or let threats of any kind stop our lives moving forward.”

Chabad emissary Rabbi Levi Duchman has been a resident of the UAE for six years, and is looking forward to welcoming the biggest group of both residents and tourists in his time in Dubai for Hanukkah celebrations, which begin Thursday night.

The celebrations are so large that they will be spread across venues in the city to ensure safe social distancing, in line with the Dubai government’s COVID-19 protocols. “As a rabbi living here, I’ve always felt comfortable and safe,” Duchman said. “We are in a very safe environment and always had the full support of UAE authorities to protect the Jewish community and the Israeli visitors who are coming.”


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