MILAN — The Dubai Air Show, one of the world’s largest aircraft-themed expos, is set to begin next week against the backdrop of an increasingly tense region, leading at least one Israeli defense organization to pull away from the show.
The biannual event, which will gather 1,400 commercial and military exhibitors from 95 countries, will run Nov. 13-17 at the Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai.
Israel was expected to have a dedicated pavilion, with some of the country’s biggest defense contractors listed in the initial program and floor plan. Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries said they still plan to attend. Rafael did not respond to a request for comment on their plans.
On the other hand, the country’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate, SIBAT, which spearheads arms transfers on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, has called off its participation.
“In light of the war that began on Oct. 7, SIBAT has decided not to inaugurate a national pavilion at global defense exhibitions until further notice,” the media and public affairs bureau of the Israeli MoD told Defense News in an email.
This situation is markedly different from 2021, which was the first year that Israel attended the Dubai Air Show following the normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates, the first Gulf nation to do so.
At the time, a statement released by IAI’s chief executive officer Boaz Levy said that “a year after the signing of the Abraham Accords, we are thrilled to participate in the show and to broaden cooperation with business partners in the Gulf region.”
Two years on, the regional geo-political landscape has turned gloomy. Following the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas against Israel last month, Qatar and Kuwait’s foreign ministries issued statements declaring that they held Israel as the sole responsible party.
The UAE government described the Oct. 7 attacks carried out against Israel as a “serious and grave escalation,” and top officials have warned of the threat of a regional spillover from the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
“As we continue working to stop this war we cannot ignore the wider context and necessity to turn down the regional temperature that is approaching a boiling point,” Noura Al Kaabi, minister of state for foreign affairs, said at a policy conference in Abu Dhabi on Nov 3, according to Reuters.
Some experts view the growing instability that is grasping the region as likely to impact defense exports.
“In the short run, many Arab countries will want to distance themselves and minimize their ties to Israel, particularly the Israeli military and defense industry, if only to limit the domestic political fallout of the war,” Raphael Cohen, director of strategy and doctrine program at RAND Corp said.
As for the longer term, Cohen says the consequences are more uncertain. Still, he believes many Arab nations’ basic security interests have not changed. “They still view Iran as a mortal threat, so they still need weapons.”
Buying arms from Russia or China risks blowback from the United States and other Western governments, he added, not to mention that Moscow probably has none to spare anyway as Russian forces continue to pursue the invasion of Ukraine.
Awad Mustafa in Dubai contributed to this report.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.