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Israel urges citizens to avoid Gulf, cites Iran threat

Israel issues Gulf warning

The Israeli government on Thursday urged its citizens to avoid travel to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, citing threats of Iranian attacks.

Iran has been threatening to attack Israeli targets since its chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated last Friday near Tehran. It accuses Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, of being behind the shooting.

Israel has not commented on the killing. But Fakhrizadeh has long been on Israel's radar screen, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying at a 2018 news conference about Iran's nuclear program: “Remember that name.” Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons — a charge Iran denies.

In recent months, Israel has signed agreements establishing diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab states of the UAE and Bahrain — its first normalization deals with Arab countries in a quarter century.

The agreements, brokered by the Trump administration, have generated widespread excitement in Israel, and thousands of Israeli tourists are scheduled to travel to the UAE for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah this month.

That may change following Thursday's warning.

“In light of the threats heard recently by Iranian officials and in light of the involvement in the past of Iranian officials in terror attacks in various countries, there is a concern that Iran will try to act in this way against Israeli targets,” said a statement issued by the prime minister’s National Security Council.

It also advised against travel to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Kurdish area of Iraq and Africa.

Israel's military is well prepared to deal with the threats of Iranian troops and their proxies in neighbouring Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Israeli media say the government also has beefed up security at embassies around the world.

But protecting Israeli travellers, conspicuous and spread out at countless hotels, restaurants and tourist sites, represents a different type of challenge.

“This is going to be a nightmare, and I really hope that both governments, UAE and Israel, are co-ordinating and doing the best they can to safeguard those Israelis,” said Yoel Guzansky, a former Israeli counterterrorism official who is now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“I’m really worried that that something might happen, and especially now because of the context of Fakhrizadeh, because Iran is really looking for revenge,” he added. He spoke before the travel advisory was issued.

The Israel Airports Authority estimates that about 25,000 Israelis will fly to the UAE this month on the five airlines now plying the route between Tel Aviv and the Gulf state’s airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Celebrities, entrepreneurs and tourists already have been flocking to Dubai.

With the coronavirus appearing to be under control in the UAE, it is one of the few quarantine-free travel options for Israelis during the coming Hanukkah holiday vacation, adding to its appeal. At a time when few people are travelling, Israeli visitors speaking Hebrew could be extra conspicuous.



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