Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are taking another step in their normalisation of relations. The two countries have announced a code-share agreement and a joint frequent flyer programme, just under a year after the signing of the Abraham Accords, which saw the normalisation of relations between the Hebrew country and four Arab states: Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco and, of course, the UAE.
This announcement comes shortly after Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid's two-day visit to the UAE. Lapid's visit marked the first official visit by a senior Israeli diplomat to the Gulf kingdom. It was a visit full of symbolism, as it came at a time of tension between the Jewish state and Hamas, the de facto government in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians accused the signing of the Abraham Accords by some Arab nations of "betrayal" because it took the Palestinian issue out of the equation.
Since the UAE and Israel signed the normalisation of relations agreement, the two countries have signed extensive trade and cooperation agreements, and bilateral trade is estimated to have exceeded $354 million. In addition, more than 200,000 Israeli tourists have travelled to the UAE, according to the Israeli foreign ministry. So this new cooperation agreement for frequent flyers was to be expected.
Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the UAE, in a statement explains that this agreement is based on "the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the airlines signed in 2020 following the Abraham Accords". Under the agreement, El Al Israel Airlines will sell tickets and offer frequent flyer points to its members for Etihad's service with a twice-weekly frequency between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv from 18 July. They also hope to expand the partnership to cover more destinations and are planning to include other countries such as Australia, Bahrain, India, Korea, the Philippines and the Seychelles from 1 August.
Tony Douglas, Etihad Aviation Group CEO, said: "This partnership will offer more choice and connectivity for customers of both airlines, as well as a range of benefits for frequent flyers between our respective hubs in Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv and beyond". The statement released by the two airlines states that members of the Etihad Guest and Matmid frequent flyer programmes will be able to accrue and use miles on both airlines' flights.
Avigal Soreq, CEO of EL AL Israel Airlines, described the agreement as an "important milestone" and said: "The EL AL and Etihad teams have a common goal in this partnership, and we look forward to seeing it grow in the future". This agreement marks a further step in the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was keen to show that the new Israeli government will continue to work to strengthen relations with Arab states. During his visit to the UAE, he stressed that 'we are not going anywhere. The Middle East is our home. We are here to stay, and we call on all countries in the region to recognise this and come and talk to us. Yair Lapid symbolised the strengthening of relations with the UAE by inaugurating the Jewish state's first embassy in the Gulf, as well as Israel's consulate in Dubai.
Lapid also took the opportunity to visit the country's pavilion at the Expo 2020 trade fair in Dubai, which is scheduled to open in October this year. The Israeli foreign minister gave a clear account of Israel's intentions to enter into further cooperation agreements with the UAE. He also shared Israel's desire to sign more normalisation agreements with other countries in the region.