The Israeli government has warned its citizens to avoid visiting the United Arab Emirates in the wake of the assassination of the father of Iran's nuclear programme.
The warning comes just weeks after Israel signed a Trump administration-brokered normalisation deal with the Arab kingdom, which opened the doors for bilateral travel between the countries.
But security concerns spiked after the assassination on Friday of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian nuclear and weapons scientist. Fars News, the semi-official news agency, said the scientist was killed outside of Tehran by a remote-controlled machine gun fired from a car. Iran has blamed Israel for the killing, and promised retaliation.
"Given the presence and activities of terrorist organizations, there are tangible threats to the safety of Israeli citizens visiting/staying in the United Arab Emirates,” said a statement released by the Israeli National Security Council's counter-terrorism bureau.
Eli Cohen, Israel's Intelligence Minister, told military radio that he "didn't know who was responsible” for Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.
The death of Fakhrizadeh follows a long list of Israeli attempts to undermine Iran’s nuclear programme, demonstrating Mossad's capability deep inside the territory of its arch-nemesis.
"His removal from the world contributed to the Middle East and the whole world. Anyone who takes an active part in creating a nuclear weapon is a dead man walking," Cohen said.
Tensions are high in Tehran over the spate of high-level assassinations and sabotage of nuclear facilities and cyber-attacks on its ports, allegedly by Israel, this year.
The Israeli intelligence services reportedly killed Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abdullah Ahmed, at the behest of the United States, and scientists were killed on Iranian soil in suspected Israeli operations.
President Hassan Rouhani blamed Israel for Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, promising revenge "at the proper time." Tehran has lost six scientists and experts working in its nuclear program in the past decade.
Iran's capabilities to retaliate reciprocally are limited because the country's military equipment is far behind its rival in the region. After the assassination of its top military general Qasem Soleimani by the US at the start of 2020, Iran fired 17 missiles at two US bases in Iraq without causing a single casualty – but more than 56 mourners died and 200 were injured in stampedes at the general's funeral processions across Iran.
Israel has signed normalisation agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan in the last few months. Benjamin Netanyahu is believed to have visited Saudi Arabia for a secret meeting with the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman last week with a view to establishing ties to form a united front against the shared enemy in Tehran.
Outgoing US President Donald Trump made containing Iran and its nuclear program his main foreign policy agenda. He is highly invested in creating a new alliance against Iran's threats to the US allies in the region.
The budding alliance could create a new reality in the region as Trump – who has given almost free rein to his Israeli and Gulf allies – prepares to depart from office. However, through its proxies, Iran's long arm reaches deep into several Middle Eastern countries' political and military machinations. It poses a complicated dossier to handle for the incoming president Joe Biden next year.
Also, on Monday, the US special envoy to the Middle East, Jared Kushner, was set to visit Riyadh and Qatar to meditate the diplomatic spat between the two countries that erupted in 2017, as a parting gift to Trump. The fallout from the Fakhrizadeh killing is likely now to overshadow his trip.