Israel’s Mossad liaising with UAE ahead of Dubai Expo

The director of Israel’s national intelligence agency Mossad is liaising with high profile officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to arrange Israel’s participation in the Dubai Expo 2020.

Israel’s public broadcaster Kan yesterday reported that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen is in “direct contact” with Emirati officials to arrange the visit, which will see an Israeli delegation visit the Emirati city in October next year. Kan’s political correspondent, Gili Cohen, noted that “the Mossad chief discussed all the arrangements with the UAE side, including technical matters relating to the arrival of the Israeli mission and its place of residence in Dubai.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced in April that it would participate in the event, saying it “welcomed the opportunity to share our spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship and to present Israeli innovations and trailblazing technology in various fields such as water, medicine and information technology.”

“Expos are meeting places where people all over the world come together and take advantage of each other’s talents to face joint challenges and advance society,” the ministry added.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the announcement, writing on Twitter that Israel’s participation represented “another expression of Israel’s rising status in the world and the region”.

That Cohen has been working with high profile Emirati ministers will be seen as yet further evidence of the close cooperation between Mossad and the Gulf state.

These relations were thrust into the spotlight following the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in the UAE in 2010. Al-Mabhouh had been staying in Dubai’s Al-Bustan hotel when, on 20 January, a hit squad seemingly waited for its victim in his hotel room. It is thought that this assassination squad was overseen by Mossad and used European passports to enter the UAE.

Israeli journalist Edy Cohen has since accused Dubai’s Deputy Chairman of Police and Public Security, General Dhahi Khalfan, of being complicit in Al-Mabhouh’s murder. Al-Mahbouh’s family have echoed these suspicions, submitting a complaint to the UK-based Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR) in which they argued the Emirati authorities had covered up their alleged involvement in the assassination.

The family argued that “the recordings of the assassination broadcast by Dubai Police Chief Dhahi Khalfan resemble a movie designed to absolve the authorities and deny rumours regarding the UAE’s involvement in the assassination”. They added: “Then the case was buried and the UAE authorities did not take any serious action to arrest the accused or bring those who were arrested to justice. This is what is suspicious about their behaviour.”

Since Al-Mahbouh’s assassination, relations between Israel and the UAE have increasingly been conducted in the open as part of Israel’s normalisation drive.

This has taken many forms, including the visit of high profile Israeli officials to the UAE and visits by Emirati military delegations to Israel. In addition, last week human rights organisation Amnesty International released a report detailing Israeli arms sales to the UAE. This has included the purchase of Israeli spyware firm NSO Group’s Pegasus software, a tool which has been used to hack into the iPhones of prominent activists, journalists and Amnesty International staff.

In January it emerged that the UAE had used Pegasus spyware to spy on the Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. Head of NSO Group, Shalev Hulio, explained that the Israeli Defence Export Control Agency (DECA) had authorised three deals with the UAE for the sale of NSO software, which were allegedly mediated by former Israeli defence officials with close ties to a senior Emirati official. The deals are thought to have been worth $80 million.

This was not the first time the UAE was found to have used Israeli spyware. In 2016, Canada-based research institute Citizen Lab and Apple revealed there were attempts to infect an iPhone owned by the Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Mansoor had raised the alarm after receiving suspicious text intended to “bait to get him to click on a link, which would have led to the infection of his Apple iPhone 6 and control of the device through a spy software created by the NSO Group”.

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