Trade and economic cooperation between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been growing steadily since the signing of the Abraham Accords a year and a half ago. Most of this consists of business cooperation between private firms and companies, but the governments of both countries are planning to bridge the gap with large-scale, government-sponsored projects. One of these already being implemented is an agreement between Israel’s Trans-Israel Pipeline and the Emirati Med-Red company to carry petroleum from the UAE from Eilat to Ashkelon through the Israeli pipeline. This shortens the distance from the Emirates to Europe and spares the need to transport the oil by way of the Suez Canal.
Another energy project was signed earlier this month between Israel’s Electric Company and Energroup, a consortium of energy companies based in Dubai. This is a preliminary agreement to investigate projects to produce hydrogen. The participating firms will cooperate in the practical development of clean energy in the emerging field of hydrogen gas cells and the actual production of hydrogen. The announcement appeared in all major media across the UAE and in the press of other Gulf States, among them Saudi Arabia. It was later confirmed by Israel’s Electric Company.
The Emiratis are especially interested in this aspect of clean energy and have been investing enormous amounts of money into it. Their goal is to become a major international player in this field. The consortium also includes major energy companies from Europe, which will be involved in the various projects. A delegation of senior figures in Israel’s Energy Company recently returned from Dubai, where general manager Ofer Bloch signed a statement of intent with the general manager of Energroup, Murad Dahabi. While the companies did not provide specific data about the financial scope of the deal, they did say that their vision involves heavy investments by the UAE.
Teams will now be created by the Electric Company to discuss various possibilities for future projects with the Emirates. These include the creation of an entire system to manufacture, transport and store electricity. Apparently, the hydrogen will not be produced by the Israeli company, at least in the initial stage. Rather, it will participate in the development of international projects.
Regardless, the ultimate goal is that Israeli power stations will require hydrogen within a decade. The Electric Company is already looking into the repurposing of existing power stations for the mixed use of hydrogen so that it can be integrated into the production of electricity. At the same time, the Electric Company is also working together with the Technion in conducting experts to convert hydrogen to electricity. The technology already exists; there are already power stations around the world based on this clean energy whose only emission is water. There are also refineries in Haifa that make mixed use of hydrogen and other fuels.
The problem now is that the technologies to produce hydrogen are expensive and inefficient. Israeli-Emirati cooperation will focus on improving these technologies. Hydrogen fuel cells are considered a form of green energy that do not emit greenhouse gases. The manufacture of hydrogen consumes vast amounts of energy. Companies and governments around the world are looking for ways to meet targets for the reduction of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. They are therefore looking for ways to produce hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells in the cleanest way.
Energy is one of the major fields of interest to the Emiratis. According to a vision statement released by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the country must prepare itself for the post-petroleum, post-gas era. During a visit to the Emirates by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, his hosts announced that they had lifted a freeze, put in place last year, on an agreement between the crown prince and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to invest $10 billion in Israel. The Emirati company Energroup, which also functions as an investment fund focused on renewable energy, is linked to other major investment and sovereign wealth funds in the country. The hydrogen project could be part of the $10 billion Emirati investment in Israeli companies.
The news about de-freezing the $10 billion investment was announced by chairman of the Emirati investment fund ADG Faris Mohammed Al Mazrouei, acting undersecretary of economic development Rashid Abdul Karim al-Balushi, and chairman of the UAE Chamber of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Mohamed Al Mazrouei. At the meeting, the Israeli team was informed that the investments will be channeled through the largest investment funds in the Emirates, including ADIA (Abu Dhabi Investment Authority) and the Mubadala Investment Company, but that the first $2 billion to be invested in Israel will come from the ADG (Abu Dhabi Growth Fund). The fund wants to invest $200 million in Israel this year, and a similar amount in Israeli companies in each of the next 10 years.
The Abraham Accords led to energy investments from other states in the Middle East. It even went as far as to produce a preliminary agreement between Israel, Jordan and the UAE to construct a huge solar farm in the Jordanian desert to provide electricity for Israel. Israel would reciprocate by establishing a desalination plant on the Mediterranean coast to make up for the growing water shortage in Jordan.
Furthermore, an agreement was signed at the beginning of March to carry Israeli natural gas extracted from the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields in the Mediterranean to Jordan and from there to Egypt. The gas will be carried in a pipeline crossing Jordan from north to south and would also serve to carry Egyptian gas for use in power stations in Syria and Lebanon.
The Abraham Accords opened the Middle East to a slew of new horizons: economic, energy and technology-based, and more. Regional leaders need to prove that they can overcome the bad reputation, conflicts and wars that plague this part of the world. Only this way will they be able to achieve progress that is so necessary.