Jewish-American CEO living in Gulf facilitates normalization by trade

August 15, 2022

Source: Agencies + Al Mayadeen English

By Al Mayadeen English 

Jewish-American entrepreneur Bruce Gurfein is actively working on normalizing relations between “Israel” and the Gulf countries through grey zone business development.

Normalization-facilitator Bruce Gurfein on the road from Saudi Arabia to occupied Al-Quds (Bruce Gurfein)

Jewish-American entrepreneur Bruce Gurfein, who had been living in the Gulf countries for 25 years and had brokered Arab-Israeli deals long before the 2020 normalization of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain, sought to do business in the grey areas while formal ties remain underway.

Similar to the UAE and Bahrain before the 2020 deal, Israelis and Saudis were often not allowed to enter each other’s land unless they have second passports granted by other nations. However, through subsidiaries incorporated in other nations, a number of Israeli businesses have succeeded in conducting business in Saudi Arabia.

Gurfein is the CEO of Connect LLC, a technological investment business owned by Abdullah Al Naboodah, one of the UAE’s richest individuals. He’s attempting to establish a business accelerator in Saudi Arabia that will entice firms that are developing innovative approaches to food security and agriculture in the desert. He noted that the businesses could come from different backgrounds, including “Israel”.

Earlier, Gurfein had said that he had made a trip from Saudi Arabia to occupied Al-Quds, proof that the Gulf is open to doing business in grey areas prior to normalization. During his trip, the CEO stopped at a few farms in the desert to test the waters on his grey area project.

“We’re hoping that the noise that this trip is going to create will bring additional companies,” Gurfein said. “We’re setting up the infrastructure so that when the companies come, we know where we can redirect them. That’s why we’re dealing with these farms.”

Gurfein advises people who are hopeful that Saudi Arabia would fully join the normalization agreements to take their time.

Before leaving Saudi Arabia, Gurfein observed in a blog post on LinkedIn that the earlier generation of Saudi Arabian monarchs was internally opposed to connections with “Israel”.

“A premature open peace agreement with Israel would inevitably hurt the rest of the changes and efforts within Saudi today and lead to a formal peace, a peace between governments, but not necessarily between their people,” Gurfein wrote. “If we want real peace to be achieved between Israel and Saudi Arabia, we need to build financial structures and trade platforms via third parties and countries that will allow the nations to get to know each other on a personal level and let the people see the benefits of business relationships and a true open peace.”

In an article by Israel Hayom, it has been revealed that Israeli envoys visited Riyadh several times throughout a period of time that extends for over a decade now. However, these visits have always been kept secret.

There has been one exception to the secret visits and that is former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit in November of 2020 to the Red Sea city of Neom, which was widely yet carefully publicized, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).

Previously, Israeli security minister Benny Gantz had visited Saudi Arabia as chief of staff, while Aluf Meir Dagan, Tamir Pardo, and Yossi Cohen arrived as heads of Mossad and Ben Shabbat as head of the National Security Council. The purpose of the visit was to develop military coordination, especially against Iran. Netanyahu, as did most Israeli officials, had flown to SA in a private plane especially leased for this occasion. At the time, it was business contacts that have matured into political, military, and security deals.

Earlier, Al-Rajhi Bank, the world’s largest Islamic bank, has become the largest shareholder in the Israeli startup Otonomo Technologies Ltd.

According to a regulatory filing dated July 4, Saudi-based investment firm Mithaq Capital SPC boosted its stake in Otonomo from 5.2% to 20.41%.

Otonomo is a software firm that leverages proprietary technology and data from millions of cars to give cloud-based solutions for car manufacturers and service providers to create service apps for their customers.

Mithaq would be able to discuss and influence Otonomo’s decisions on strategy, governance, and business as a result of the investment.

Read more: Hiding behind one’s Mecca: Israeli-Saudi covert normalization

Furthermore, a visit to Saudi Arabia by 13 American Jewish leaders in June was only one of the attempts made by other private campaigners to speed up the normalization process. Eli Epstein, a business executive from New York, organized the trip. Through similar efforts, “Israel” was able to establish diplomatic relations with Bahrain and the UAE.

Gurfein, as well, through his ties to Connect LLC was able to play a role in the grey zone act of normalization by connecting an Israeli hospital to the UAE. Gurfein facilitated the process of person-to-person normalization tactic pushed forward by US congress to normalize ties between Gulf countries and “Israel.”

MBS’ personal dystopia of Neom also plays a role in Gurfein’s grey zone normalization. Where he hopes to see cooperation between “Israel” and Saudi Arabia. 

Neom will buy things that they need,” he said. “If Israeli companies have technologies that they can’t find anywhere else, then we’re definitely going to see a good turnaround. But is Neom actively seeking Israeli technology? Less so.”

On July 15, Biden visited Saudi Arabia and “Israel” during a MENA trip. However, a day prior to the arrival of US President Joe Biden at the Ben Gurion airport, an Israeli official told reporters, that Biden’s trip to the region is an “unprecedented opportunity to change dynamics in the Middle East.”

However, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in “Tel Aviv,” Yoel Guzansky, said otherwise by stating that “The bigger the expectations, the bigger the disappointment.”

The announcement that “Israel” had been waiting for, which eventually surfaced hours before Biden took off for Jeddah, is that the Civil Aviation Authority of Saudi Arabia stated that all commercial aviation carriers could now fly across the nation. Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, referred to the Saudi statement as “the first official step in normalization with Saudi Arabia” despite the fact that it made no mention of “Israel.”

Following Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, it is worth noting that Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan denied, in a statement, much of what US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid remarked during their bilateral meeting, which was thought to be mainly about the normalization of relations with “Israel” and increasing oil production.

The summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as Farhan said, “focused on partnership with the United States of America,” saying “no kind of military or technological cooperation with Israel was proposed, neither at the summit nor before it.” 

It was, regardless, clear that the publicized grey zone normalization was welcomed by MBS despite the disappointment of the Israeli colonial regime in the slowing down of the process. 

Read more: Saudi-Israeli normalization ‘inevitable’ – ex-US ambassador

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