When Israel struck an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to open diplomatic ties in 2020, it brought an electrifying sense of achievement to a country long ostracised in the Middle East.
Officials insisted that Israel’s new ties with the UAE, and soon after with Bahrain, would go beyond governments and become society-wide pacts, stoking mass tourism and friendly exchanges between people long at odds.
But over two years since the breakthrough accords, the expected flood of Gulf Arab tourists to Israel has been little more than a trickle.
Although more than half a million Israelis have flocked to oil-rich Abu Dhabi and skyscraper-studded Dubai, just 1,600 Emirati citizens have visited Israel since it lifted coronavirus travel restrictions last year, according to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
The ministry does not know how many Bahrainis have visited Israel because, it said, “the numbers are too small”.
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