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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.

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Israelis welcome – sort of

Although the UAE officially bans Israeli passport holders not on an official visit as well as travelers who have Israeli stamps in their passports, both types of traveler have been granted entry into the country says Professor Davidson, who is also a lecturer at Durham University in Britain.

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“This is deliberately a gray area in the UAE,” he says. “Of course we’re not talking about many people, but it’s more than just a few special cases.”

In some policy areas the two countries’ interests align. Both want to contain an increasingly assertive Iran, and both want regional stability to protect their economies. But any advantage the UAE might gain in cooperating with Israel is overshadowed by the potential backlash at home, where hostility toward the country runs strong.

“In any which way you think of it, people really do not like to see Israelis coming to this country,” says Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political scientist at Emirates University in Al Ain. Arab solidarity is an important plank for the government and as a result criticism of Israel regularly features in its rhetoric.

The dramatic assassination of Mr. Mabhouh, a senior Hamas figure who helped found the Palestinian group’s militant wing, has given an opportunity for Dubai to reassert that position, especially as accusations and criticism of Israel in connection with the murder mount.

Dubai police have not blamed Israel but have said that “Israel carries out a lot of assassinations in many countries.”

“This is all highly convenient for Dubai and the UAE,” says Davidson. “This is a lot of public chest-beating.”

But Dubai appears to be balancing its aggressive response with pragmatism, by refraining from banning Israeli tennis player Ms. Peer from participating in its tournament a second time, despite the mounting anger over Mabhouh’s assassination. The move could have won local praise, as it did last year when she was blocked entry at the last minute in apparent retaliation for Israel’s war on Gaza.

Peer is, however, banned from talking directly to the press after matches and from going anywhere besides her hotel and the tennis courts. She won her first match on Tuesday.

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