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With mounting anger at Israel over assassination, Dubai walks a fine line

Dubai seeks to balance anger over speculation that Israel was behind the assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud Mabhouh at a Dubai hotel with its desire to remain a trade hub open to all, even Israelis.

By Carol HuangStaff writer / February 17, 2010

Two suspects in the killing of Hamas militant, Mahmoud al-Mabhou, are shown in this CCTV handout from Dubai police on Feb. 15. Israel's foreign minister said on Wednesday the use of the identities of foreign-born Israelis by a hit squad suspected of killing al-Mabhouh in Dubai did not prove the Mossad spy agency assassinated him.

Dubai Police/Reuters


Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Beneath its forceful response to the assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud Mabhouh, Dubai is maintaining a delicate balance between catering to anti-Israel sentiment at home and winning international respect as an open and modern city.

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Authorities here have gone so far as to threaten to arrest Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if his country’s Mossad spy agency is found responsible for the Jan. 20 murder here.

At the same time they have quietly kept up their minimal relations, allowing Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer – who was famously banned from a tournament in the United Arab Emirates last year – to enter the country to compete here this month.

“The Dubai government is trying to make as much as possible out of this with the Israeli angle. [The assassination] is very important for the people [even though] on a government and economic level [Dubai] is warming up,” says Christopher Davidson, author of “Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success.”

Officially the UAE, like many Arab states, has no relations with Israel. But to fulfill their aspirations as globalized cities with liberal economies, leading emirates Abu Dhabi and Dubai have chosen not to boycott Israel altogether.

As the global headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Abu Dhabi must allow all member states to attend meetings. So in January it invited the first Israel minister ever to participate in an IRENA conference.

As a member of the World Trade Organization, the UAE is required to do business with all fellow participants, which includes Israel. Dubai offered last month to replace New York as the home of the United Nations, a role that would also require it to regularly allow in Israeli officials.