GCC News Roundup: Trump moves to sell F-35 fighter jets to UAE, first flight carrying Israeli tourists lands in UAE (November 1-30)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a welcoming ceremony upon the landing of a United Arab Emirates airline flydubai flight at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Emil Salman/Pool

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Trump advances plan to sell F-35 fighter jets to UAE

The Trump administration formally notified Congress on November 10 that it plans to sell 50 stealth F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a broader arms deal worth $23 billion aimed at deterring potential threats from Iran despite concern in Israel.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had authorized the sale in keeping with the administration’s Middle East peace efforts.

First flight carrying Israeli tourists lands in UAE

On November 8, the first flight carrying Israeli tourists to the UAE landed in the city-state of Dubai, the latest sign of the normalization deal reached between the two nations.

Meanwhile, on November 16, UAE national carrier Etihad Airways announced it would start operating daily nonstop flights to Tel Aviv next spring.

Bahraini FM visits Israel, Israeli PM meets Saudi crown prince

Bahrain’s foreign minister paid a history-making visit to Israel on November 18, in the latest sign of warming ties following a series of U.S.-brokered normalization accords between Israel and Arab nations.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported on November 23 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would mark the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials.

Explosion at Saudi cemetery wounds 3

An explosion at a Saudi cemetery where American and European officials were commemorating the end of World War I wounded three people on November 11, according to official statements.

It’s not clear what motivated the blast, but France has been the target of three attacks in recent weeks that authorities have attributed to Muslim extremists.

Bahrain’s PM dies at age 84

Bahrain’s Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers who led his island nation’s government for decades and survived the 2011 Arab Spring protests that demanded his ouster over corruption allegations, died on November 11. He was 84.

Saudi Arabia formally suspends Turkish imports

Saudi Arabia formally suspended imports of products from Turkey earlier this month, the Turkish exporters’ union said, after a months-long informal boycott of Turkish goods over political tensions between the two regional rivals.

“Imports from our country of red meat and products, white meat and products, water products, eggs, honey and their products, as well as milk and…alternatives to breast milk, have been suspended as of November 15,” the union told its members in an email obtained by Reuters.

Saudi Arabia announces migrant labor reforms

Saudi Arabia on November 4 announced reforms that will abolish some key restrictions tying millions of low-paid and vulnerable migrant workers to their employers in conditions that have been rife with abuse and exploitation.

The Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development said the reforms will allow foreign workers the right to change jobs by transferring their sponsorship from one employer to another, leave and re-enter the country, and secure final exit visas without the consent of their employer, which had long been required.

UAE stops issuing new visas to citizens of 13 countries

The UAE has stopped issuing new visas to citizens of 13 mostly Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, according to a document issued by a state-owned business park.

The document, sent to companies operating in the park and seen by Reuters, cited an immigration circular that came into effect on November 18.

UAE loosens Islamic laws related to personal freedoms

On November 7, the UAE announced a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions, and criminalizing so-called “honor killings.”

The reforms aim to boost the country’s economic and social standing and “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance,” said state-run WAM news agency, which offered only minimal details in the surprise weekend announcement.