June 2023 was one of the busiest months for Morocco-Israel relations in the history of the two countries’ bilateral ties. In June alone, Israel’s National Security Advisor, Knesset Speaker, Interior and Health Minister, Innovation Minister, and Environmental Protection Minister all visited Morocco. Israeli defense company Elbit Systems announced plans to open two factories in Casablanca, the two countries signed agreements to ease visa requirements for Moroccan workers and to collaborate on medical technology, and Israeli soldiers participated in American-led military exercises in the Kingdom.
Important advances took part in ties between other Abraham Accords countries as well. Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz became the first minister to visit Bahrain on behalf of the current Israeli government. Kosovo’s parliament voted to become one of just a handful of Muslim-majority countries to recognize the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. UAE and Israeli cyber entities signed several important agreements, while the Israeli Defense Ministry announced that nearly 25% of Israel’s defense exports in 2022 went to Abraham Accords countries.
Overland Trade: Expanding the Global Economic Impact of the Abraham Accords
This month, we highlight an article by AAPI Deputy Director for Israel David Aaronson, discussing how improvements to overland trade can expand the economic impact of the Abraham Accords.
The Abraham Accords have ushered in a new era for world trade. Prior to the signing of the Accords in 2020, there was little to no trade between Israel and most of the Arab world. But as a result of the peace and normalization treaties, the Abraham Accords member countries annulled their boycotts of Israel. Since then, we have seen trade between these countries and Israel grow at an impressive rate. Similarly, trade between Israel and its legacy peace partners, Egypt and Jordan, has dramatically increased as a result of the positive momentum created by the Abraham Accords.
Yet despite the progress made, the trade numbers between Israel and its Abraham Accords partners are far below what they could or should be. One of the highest potential areas where commerce can be increased is through the expansion of an overland trade route linking Israel’s ports to those of the Gulf. This route could be particularly valuable for heavy or bulky cargo such as vehicles, which are generally not sent by air, or for perishable goods such as produce and pharmaceuticals, which cannot be sent via the lengthy sea route.
Throughout the years of the Arab boycott of Israel, countries in Europe that wanted to send goods from the Mediterranean to the Gulf were forced to do so through trade routes that were often lengthy, costly and risky. For example, they would ship through the Port of Beirut, passing through Hezbollah-controlled territory, and then travel eastwards to Damascus, the site of civil war and instability for over a decade. Alternatively, these shipments were sent through the Suez Canal, utilizing slow and costly sea routes that often came close to the Yemeni coastline, another area plagued by war and instability.
As a result of the Abraham Accords, the boycott laws in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were abolished. Countries in Europe can now ship products through Israel’s ports to the Gulf, utilizing an overland route that can connect Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan to the GCC. This is good news for many European exporters.
However, without improving Israel’s overland border crossings and related infrastructure, the trade numbers between Israel and the other Abraham Accords countries will not reach their full potential. As an example, UAE-Israel trade numbers are still significantly below those for the UAE’s trade with Iran.
In order to enhance and expand overland trade, the following steps can be taken:
Upgrade the infrastructure at the Israel-Jordan ‘Jordan River Border Crossing’. This would include building a third bridge at the site (there are currently two.) AAPI estimates that such a bridge would cost approximately $20 million and would lead to an annual increase in the value of goods utilizing the crossing of $1.21 billion.
Improve the infrastructure at the Israel-Egypt ‘Nitzana Border Crossing’, where 60% of the goods crossing from Egypt into Israel are destined for Gaza or the Palestinian Authority.
Ensure that the hours and the personnel at both of these crossings are expanded, in order to alleviate the backlog of trucks, which often wait long hours and even days to cross the border.
Encourage Jordan to allow, on a permanent basis, the transfer of goods in shipping containers from Israel to Jordan. Current Jordanian policy generally requires goods arriving at the Jordan River crossing to be unpacked from Israeli trucks, and then reloaded onto Jordanian trucks, a time-consuming and costly process. Smart containers could be used to help alleviate potential security concerns.
Israel and Morocco should immediately begin negotiations toward a free trade agreement, like the agreement signed between Israel and the UAE and the agreement which awaits signature between Israel and Bahrain. These trade agreements would help facilitate the creation of a free trade zone between Abraham Accords countries. This would make it easier for Accords member nations to trade amongst themselves and with other partners, including the United States. The United States’ existing free trade agreements with Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan could be utilized for establishing such a common free trade area.
The Abraham Accords countries should work with European partners to identify how Europe can contribute to establishing and expanding such an overland trade route, including in sectors such as vehicles, construction materials, agricultural products and pharmaceuticals. European economies can both greatly contribute to, and benefit from, strengthening ties and trade between Accords member countries.
The opportunities for Abraham Accords trade have not reached their full potential. In fact, they have only scratched the surface. By working together, Accords member nations can expand free trade, advance the overland route, and develop regional connectivity. Once implemented, Israel and its Abraham Accords partners will be able to bring prosperity to their peoples in ways that were previously unimaginable.
300 Moroccan citizens visited Israel in May 2023, constituting no change from May 2022. 1,800 Moroccan citizens have visited Israel so far this year, an 80% increase from the first five months of 2022.
200 Egyptian citizens visited Israel in May 2023, constituting a 50% decrease from May 2022. 4,800 Egyptian citizens have visited Israel so far this year, a 17.07% increase from the first five months of 2022.
1,200 Jordanian citizens visited Israel in May 2023, constituting no change from May 2022. 6,100 Jordanian citizens have visited Israel so far this year, a 64.86% increase from the first five months of 2022.
AAPI in the Region
This month, a team from AAPI, including President and Executive Director Robert Greenway, Deputy Director for Israel David Aaronson, and former Ambassador to Morocco David Fischer and Jennifer Fischer, traveled to Morocco. During the trip, the team met with multiple Moroccan senior officials and organizations to provide updates on the Abraham Accords’ progress, advance key initiatives, and chart next steps.
Trade between Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached $298.4 million in May 2023, constituting a 47.94% increase in trade from May 2022. For the first 5 months of 2023, bilateral trade was $1.291 billion, constituting a 41.59% increase in trade from the first 5 months of 2022.
Trade between Israel and Bahrain reached $400,000 in May 2023, constituting a 66.67% decrease in trade from May 2022. For the first 5 months of 2023, bilateral trade was $5.2 million, constituting a 23.81% increase in trade from the first 5 months of 2022.
Trade between Israel and Morocco reached $4.6 million in May 2023, constituting a 4.55% increase in trade from May 2022. For the first 5 months of 2023, bilateral trade was $33.4 million, constituting a 110.06% increase in trade from the first 5 months of 2022.
Trade between Israel and Egypt reached $25.6 million in May 2023, constituting a 1.99% increase in trade from May 2022. For the first 5 months of 2023, bilateral trade was $135 million, constituting a 4.57% increase in trade from the first 5 months of 2022.
Trade between Israel and Jordan reached $43.4 million in May 2023, constituting a 19.33% decrease in trade from May 2022. For the first 5 months of 2022, bilateral trade was $215.6 million, constituting a 4.22% decrease in trade from the first 5 months of 2022.
Spotlight: Tourism Insights from HVS Consulting
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism took part in the renowned Arabian Travel Market (ATM), presenting the country's diverse attractions to travel professionals and industry experts. The Ministry aimed to attract a wide range of interests and preferences, making Israel an appealing destination for travelers from the UAE market. Emirates Airlines has recently expanded its presence in Israel by adding a third daily flight, further connecting the two countries.
The Israel Ministry of Tourism recently organized a trade destination workshop in Dubai, gathering more than 30 prominent travel trade stakeholders. The event aimed to showcase the vibrant tourism offerings of Israel and foster stronger connections between Israel and the UAE. During the event, Her Excellency Ms. Liron Zaslansky, the Consul General of the State of Israel in Dubai, highlighted the significance of tourism in strengthening the bilateral ties between Israel and the UAE. The workshop served as a platform to promote further cooperation and collaboration in the tourism sector between the two nations and to highlight Israel's top tourist destinations.
95,043 Israelis flew to the United Arab Emirates in May 2023, constituting a 23.01% increase from May 2022.
2,991 Israelis flew to Bahrain in May 2023, constituting a 43.24% increase from May 2022.
20,750 Israelis flew to Morocco in May 2023, constituting a 16.35% increase from May 2022.
8,138 Israelis flew to Jordan in May 2023, constituting a 91.88% increase from May 2022.
17,702 Israelis flew to Egypt in May 2023, constituting a 0.89% decrease from May 2022.
June 2023 Developments
Below you can find a timeline of notable Abraham Accords-related events that occurred in the month of June 2023:
June 4-18: 12 Israeli soldiers joined the United States’ joint annual “African Lion” military exercise drill in Morocco. 17 other countries participated — including those without diplomatic relations with Israel.
June 7: Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita welcomed Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi to Morocco, where Hanegbi held a series of meetings focused on strengthening diplomatic ties and security cooperation between Morocco and Israel.
June 7-8: Israeli Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana arrived in Morocco for the first-ever official visit by a Speaker of the Israeli Parliament to Morocco—or to any Muslim-majority country. During the visit, Speaker Ohana declared: “Israel should move towards a recognition of Moroccan Sahara.”
June 8: Kosovo’s parliament voted to become one of just a handful of Muslim-majority countries that recognize the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.
June 11: Israel approved a plan to lay fiberoptic cables along the Europe Asia Pipeline from Eilat to Ashkelon, allowing for the transmission of digital data between Asian and European countries, with a focus on the countries of the Abraham Accords.
June 12: Speaking at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said that the Abraham Accords have created “a unique opportunity for peace” and that “bilateral relations with Israel have been improving on all levels.”
June 13: The Center for Jewish Impact and the Head of the Moroccan Liaison Office to Israel hosted an event in Tel Aviv focused on enhancing water cooperation in the Morocco-Israel partnership. The event included discussions on best practices in water usage, desalination technologies, and the use of water to enhance business ties and regional cooperation.
June 13: The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation establishing a special envoy position for the Abraham Accords.
June 14: Co-Chair of the Abraham Accords Caucus in the Knesset MK Dan Illouz spokeat the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Morocco, where he spoke in four languages to a group including delegations from other Accords-member countries, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and other Muslim-majority countries. In his speech, he urged parliamentarians from all over the world to join the Abraham Accords and normalize relations with Israel.
June 14: The Israeli Defense Ministry announced a record $12.556 billion in defense exports in 2022, with nearly 25% of those exports going to Abraham Accords countries.
June 14: Shai Cohen, the head of the Israeli liaison office in Rabat, announced that the Israeli company Elbit Systems plans to open two factories in Casablanca, Morocco, to produce defense systems.
June 16: PureHealth—an Emirati healthcare company—announced a partnership with the Israeli Sheba Medical Center to work on joint projects, collaborate on staff training, promote innovation in healthcare technology, and support medical tourism in the UAE and Israel.
June 16: Israeli Interior and Health Minister Moshe Arbel visited Morocco, where he signed an agreement with Morocco’s Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit to ease visa requirements and bring Moroccans to Israel to work as nurses and construction workers. He also signed an MOU with Moroccan Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb to collaborate on medical technology, genetics, fighting non-contagious diseases, readiness for epidemics, and strategic planning of healthcare systems.
June 18: Israeli investment firm Viola Group and the Emirati firm G42 established a joint tech recruitment platform, Global Valley, which will help companies meet the demand for highly-skilled tech talent, while helping to develop Abu Dhabi’s tech sector.
June 18: The United States House of Representatives provided initial approval for a proposal to establish a Food and Drug Administration Bureau in the “Abraham Accords region,” part of a plan to strengthen regional ties while reducing dependence on China.
June 19: Israeli Innovation Minister Ofir Akunis departed for Morocco on his first official visit, where he discussed cooperation with his counterpart Abdellatif Miraoui on agritech, food security, water, and artificial intelligence, among other topics. During the meeting, Miraoui and Akunis agreed to bolster cooperation between Israel and Morocco on scientific research and innovation.
June 19: Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen participated in the High-Level Pledging Event for Sudan and the Region—a video conference of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs—during which he pledged support and humanitarian aid for Sudan as it struggles with domestic strife.
June 20: Israel’s Tourism Minister Haim Katz became the first minister to make a visit to Bahrain on behalf of the current Israeli government. During the visit, Minister Katz held meetings with Bahraini Minister of Tourism Fatima Al-Zarifi and Minister of Finance and Economy, Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa. One of the main goals of the visit was to promote joint tourism packages for Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain.
June 20: The 2023 Arab Youth Survey, conducted by the Emirati public relations agency ASDA’A BCW, found strong support among youth for normalization with Israel in Morocco, the UAE, and Egypt. In Morocco, 50% of youth “strongly support” or “somewhat support” their government’s decision to normalize ties with Israel. In the UAE and Egypt, those numbers are 75% and 73%, respectively.
June 23: Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman became the first environmental minister to visit Morocco, meeting with her Moroccan counterpart Leila Benali in Rabat. Following the meeting, the two singed an MOU including measures for cooperation between research institutions, entrepreneurs, and public and private organizations on environmental issues.
June 24-29: The UAE Cyber Delegation visited Israel for Cyber Week, during which more that 20 Emirati Chief Information Security Officers attended 12 events and created a host of new business opportunities with their Israeli counterparts.
June 28: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his Moroccan counterpart Abdellatif Loudiyi spoke over the phone, discussing defense ties, regional stability, and the need to further deepen cooperation.
June 29: United States Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced that former United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has been appointed Senior Advisor for Regional Integration, with the mission to “deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords.”