Yariv Fisher. Discovered the potential of crossing the Jordan Bridges / Miri Davidovitch
There is still no normalization like the Abraham Accords with Saudi Arabia, but lately we have seen here and there reports and unofficial visits by Israelis that remind us of the period before cooperation with the UAE. The next generation of rulers in the Gulf region has apparently decided to approach the West by leaps and bounds, put aside differences and cooperate.
And Israelis, as only Israelis know, are already beginning to grope their way not only in the UAE but also in one of the richest countries in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia. Businessman Yariv Fischer, chairman and owner of PlayEast Tourism and fintech company Global Remit, decided not to wait for normalization, which is delayed coming, and is currently promoting unique tourism projects in Saudi Arabia that deal with Christian pilgrimage.
Fisher has worked for more than two decades with the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Djibouti and the Philippines, and now with the Saudis. These days, together with an Egyptian partner representing a large and wealthy Saudi business family, he is conducting unique tourism projects for Christian tourists in Saudi Arabia, as part of the groundbreaking vision of the local Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to develop Saudi Arabia towards the world through huge investments in promoting tourism in the country.
THE NEW DESTINATION FOR PILGRIMS?/COURTESY OF FLYEAST
The big picture
"The Christian world is connected to Saudi Arabia, through Tabuk, for example," Fisher explains, "They work very hard to appeal to the Christian world, with the intention that the Holy Land trips will not only be in Israel or Egypt. The tourism companies understand this, and are now building hotels and coordinating a national information effort so that the world will understand that it must go there as well."
How do you do business with the Saudis, they talk to you directly?
"They usually have a non-Saudi representative, and in our case an Egyptian guy named Mohammed who works for the Saudi company and through whom we have contact with our partners. I do a lot of business in the Emirates, and after work when you sit in the sheikhs' living room, there are always Saudis and they talk to us or want to talk to us.
I feel that over the years something there has calmed down. We can speak freely and they know that we can be trusted, the people who sit with them in the same forum. The shell is slowly cracking. There's that guy who looks from the side and then ends up becoming your friend. With the sayings it wasn't that complicated. As soon as there was an agreement, within a second there were hugs and everything changed."
"I know that there are many Israeli guys who have been there recently with Israeli passports, it still doesn't reach the stage where there will be this official delegation that I'm waiting for. Apropos of the incident in Libya, where they also "accuse" us that this is not happening because we simply do not stop talking, and every secret meeting comes out. And that's against every etiquette in their culture."
Is there a willingness for business collaborations?
"King Salman is not willing to have dialogue, but is pushing business. They don't understand why we keep talking about it as mentioned, but we're still doing things. What is happening there is the story of tourism, they understand that businesses will bring the agreement later. And it must also be said that they understand our region of the Middle East much more than we understand it.
By the way, if you are familiar with the peace agreement with Jordan, there is supposed to be a train that will reach Haifa port. I don't think Israelis understand the significance of the strategic depth of the peace agreement with Jordan, and in general the very big picture."
Fischer's connection to this world came after serving in the Ministry of Defense and the Civil Administration, and commanding Allenby Bridge during his military service. He speaks fluent Arabic and although he tried to stay away from the security field, he worked in cooperation with Mossad and ISA personnel immediately after his big trip to Australia.
"I was sent to follow a Filipino woman who owed money to one of the security personnel, and I discovered a whole world at the central bus station. That's what led me to actually open my first fintech business with a Philippine bank I worked with exactly twenty years ago." This business is now called Global Remit, and it has a turnover of NIS 1.5 billion a year, and more than 350 employees.
But it didn't end there, but continued into the tourism business, so he called Golf Air, which was one of the largest companies in the Gulf, and explained to them that there are many foreign workers in Israel who want to fly home. "We sewed a bus to Jordan, and that's how it started. Thousands of foreign workers flew with us non-stop. And from a ticket that cost $1,600 at the time, we were able to reduce the ticket to only $600 for India and the Philippines."
One of his colleagues, a brigadier general whose name is withheld, told him a sentence that changed his life. "He told me, give me a moment to check, if they let the Israelis come through them, I don't see any reason why we can't. After two hours, he called and said, 'OK, let's do a pilot.'"
"We opened transportation for Israelis to Jordan and started selling plane tickets online. I remember one girl signed up for the first flight and we decided we weren't canceling. I called her at night and told her, listen it's just you alone and I heard the fear in her voice, but I told her don't worry I'll accompany you. We escorted her from the Arlozorov train to the airport in Amman, put her on the plane, stayed to eat hummus and falafel and returned to Israel, and that's where the flood began."
More in Walla!
Pitro is celebrating a round birthday and you enjoy a once-in-60-year sale
In association with Pitro
"The Saudis are still more conservative than in the Emirates"/Miri Davidovich
The son who understands
Since then, a lot of water has flowed in the river and Fisher (who by the way is currently running for mayor of Herzliya) has also entered the world of tourism and aviation, and for more than 10 years he has served as the exclusive representative in Israel of the Qatari airline and is on the route between Israel and the Gulf states, where he meets with senior businessmen in the fields of tourism and aviation, including Saudi businessmen who are connected to the most senior officials in the regime in Riyadh.
How does the political situation here in Israel affect the warming of relations?
"It's very impactful. I have great criticism of the State of Israel, and even if there is a right-wing government, there are things that are not done. The story that Smotrich spoke with the Israeli flag about the Euphrates and Tigris passed everywhere in the Arab world. But business always happens, and in the end you do business in front of people. Sometimes you do notice certain delays, we submit requests and get a negative response because the situation isn't great. Our government is making all possible mistakes vis-à-vis the Arab world, and not even against our enemies."
Fisher says that when he arrives for meetings at Allenby border crossings, or Qatar or the UAE, Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya are always open. "I remember that when I went on a business tour on the day of Smotrich's speech, it was, to say the least, a bad day to go out there. It was worse than a day of terror attacks or violence. They mostly ask what we're going through. They once appreciated Bibi because as far as they were concerned, he was a very strong man, but today they understand that the story is different. And there is no doubt that as a country that is very strong in strategy, we are coming at this time with a very great weakness to an agreement with the Saudis, which is a shame. It would be a dream for our economy if that happened."
What are they really looking for in us? A small spot in the Middle East, and another Jewish state"In the
end, we also have to look at ourselves and see who we really are. We are an amazing country with exceptional people with a groundbreaking line of businesses. And they see Israel as their gateway to Europe when it comes to exporting goods and cargo, for example. You look at our technologies against what's happening with them and you're amazed, they have 18 patents a year compared to our 20,000. There is something in Israel that turns them on, especially the vibe in the country with all the chaos, when they come for secret visits they fly."
How are cultural differences expressed in the Arab world vis-à-vis the Israeli "next door"?
"It's very difficult. It's on the level of 'I'm coming to Dubai next week we'll close a meeting' and he doesn't understand what you're talking about. Or, 'We'll go over a strategy ahead and set up a meeting with the board' – it doesn't work. They were initially frightened by the Israelis, but knew there would be successful cooperation. At first, there was an order in the Emirates by Mohammed bin Rashid to listen to us and do nothing, and it took us a while to understand that we were only being examined at the moment that there was an agreement and they wanted to understand. And I think that only those who have been patient and know what is happening there and how to work reap the rewards.
Didn't that shorten the range for Saudi Arabia?
"Nope. They told us they had another strategy so they wouldn't break it because we had just signed with the neighbors. On the other hand, it did change perceptions, they did see a lot of Israelis, it broke the barrier, they understand that we are human beings. It will be difficult to turn back from this agreement despite all the mistakes we are making now in the country."
So you wipe hummus in Riyadh?
"I wipe hummus in the UAE and Qatar and Jordan. I speak Arabic and they look at me sometimes and don't think I understand all the gossip behind my back. And look, I think they are not so aware of the importance of the agreement with the Emirates for everything that will develop from there on. Businessmen in Israel have made V and Next, and I say – don't disappear on the strategic level or on the social level, this agreement must not fall and this is important not only at the level of large gas companies and giant companies, but also at the business community in the middle class.
They have taken a very brave step and they look forward to getting the recognition all around. The very fact of moving between countries will not descend to our middle class, not to middle-class businessmen, high-tech companies, and it is a great shame. This is not only happening because of the government but because we as businessmen are not fromLook in the eyes properly. We came and visited was cool, we put on a suit and come on the next country. Business with the Arab world is long-term. You have to be very patient, to be trusted, and it's a matter of years and it doesn't fit the Israeli mentality. I was sure that because of Al-Aqsa there would be a lot more push here, but that hasn't happened yet."
You also work with the Egyptians and Jordanians, countries with whom we have peace agreements. How are they as business partners?
"I've been working with the Egyptians only for the past two years on new projects, and on the Jordanians for twenty years. Sisi pushed to do work with Israelis, he pushed the economy. It's not easy to work with them, with the Jordanians it's much easier. With the Jordanians there is always work, word is word, very good businessmen. We have partnerships for many years in tourism and cargo and we work with them very well."
How open are the Saudis to the West as they are to the Emirates?
"They're still more conservative. The status of women raises its head a bit, but there is still a long way to equality. In the UAE, they have made a move over the past decade to push women, managers of fintech companies are mostly women, and in Qatar too - and in the end there will be no choice, this is part of the change of government. King Salman the father is not there yet. The son already understands that the world has changed and it must be done."
- More on the subject:
- Saudi Arabia
- Saudi arabia