DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Israel ceremonially opened its gleaming pavilion at the world's fair in Dubai on Thursday, over a year after normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates and amid a pandemic that has disrupted much of the tourist and cultural exchanges promised by the U.S.-brokered accords.
The pavilion's arch — chock-full of flashy videos promoting Israel's windmills, high-tech advances and historic sights — came to life as night fell. Zany Hebrew music played and patriotic balloons floated — all within eyesight of the Palestinian pavilion nearby.
The Palestinian pavilion has not officially opened its doors at Expo 2020, and employees have reported struggling to get handicrafts out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
There was a noticeable presence of close protection officers wearing dark suits and ear pieces at the Israeli party. Security shepherded reporters through X-ray body scanners into a separate room, a level of security unseen at other pavilion visited by The Associated Press.
“I am delighted to invite all of you to come and visit my country,” Israeli Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov told the crowd of revelers after cutting the ribbon.
Israeli officials, in Dubai to cement ties after the two countries inked a long-awaited visa waiver agreement this week, traipsed through the mirrored pavilion, their reflections unfolding around them. Emiratis in traditional floor-length white dress gazed at panoramic views of Jerusalem's Old City gliding across vertical screens as a pop rendition of Shalom Aleichem played. Jewish attendees wore skullcaps emblazoned with the tourist logo of the UAE.
“It's not only (about) pavilions and visitors' centers,” Noam Katz, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said of the Israeli presence at Dubai's Expo. “It's power gathering.”
Ahead of the Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid's trip to Washington next week, Katz said Israel is increasingly alarmed about Iran's nuclear advances in the wake of the now-tattered nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
“We are talking with everyone about our own concerns," Katz said. “Israel will defend itself as needed, but we think it should be a combined effort with the international community to deal with the problems and the threats that Iran is posing.”
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and that its recent escalations are meant as leverage to bring the U.S. back to the deal. Former President Donald Trump pulled America out of the deal in 2018 and imposed tighter economic sanctions on Iran.
Amir Halevi, the Israeli Tourism Ministry's director-general, said he expects an influx of Israeli tourists to visit Expo in the coming months as virus-induced travel restrictions ease.
Both officials said they have not entered the Palestinian Authority's towering stone structure across the street, but that they would consider a visit.
“We wish them big success,” Halevi said.