A massive defense expo planned for late February is taking shape in Abu Dhabi at the National Exhibition Center.
IDEX and NAVDEX have previously attracted more than 1,300 exhibitors and 100,000 attendees from 142 countries, a major showcase for the defense industry and the Gulf. The event will take place from February 21 to 25, one of the few major defense expos and large exhibitions taking place globally despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Israel's ISDEF, which is part of the Avnon Group and runs the biennale defense expo in Tel Aviv, is the exclusive promoter of IDEX for Israel's pavilion.
"For the first time in history, Israeli companies will be able to participate and exhibit," ISDEF says.
This is a big deal for Israel, because Israeli defense giants, such as Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, along with another 40 companies, are expected to attend.
Mati Weinberg, CEO of ISDEF, said his staff is working on marketing and advertising for the important exhibition.
"We have 40 companies and exhibitors," Weinberg said.
With some 700 square meters initially booked, ISDEF last year was quick to see the potential in IDEX. Weinberg said it now has doubled its floor space.
ISDEF is the largest exhibitor in Israel since 2007, and it also runs exhibits abroad. It had to cancel last year due to the pandemic, but hopes for an exhibition in June in Tel Aviv. There is expected to be a day of live fire on a range, as in the past, and a conference and other events.
The Israeli pavilion at IDEX is expected to be very large, and there is a lot of interest in seeing Israeli technology publicly for the first time in the Gulf. The Abraham Accords, signed last year, have made this possible.
Some 130,000 Israelis have gone to Dubai already, but an Israeli airport closure and lockdown have poured some cold water on the thriving new peace and jet-setters going back and forth.
Weinberg said a lot of people are curious about seeing Israeli products and the Start-Up Nation, and noted that a medical device company is among those attending from Israel. This is because defense technology is not just about guns and tanks, it is also about artificial intelligence and homeland security, surveillance, and also medical technology.
There is also interest in cyber, Weinberg said. There is an upcoming cyber-tech conference in the Gulf, and also GISEC at the end of May. IDEX plays a major role in the constellations of these kinds of events and the hi-tech world of the Gulf, which plugs in well with Tel Aviv's own hi-tech innovations.
According to reports from the Gulf, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company organized a tour for local and international media representatives, in the lead-up to IDEX. ADNEC has implemented measures in cooperation with the Ministry of Defense and the General Command of the UAE Armed Forces.
"The beginning of our buildup phase for the internal and external exhibition stands for IDEX and NAVDEX represents the culmination of the significant efforts exerted by ADNEC's teams over the past few months," said Humaid Matar al-Dhaheri, managing director and group CEO of ADNEC, in the Arabian Aerospace media. "Our ability to host this exhibition demonstrates the confidence of the international community in ADNEC's ability to organize this exceptional edition on schedule. Such confidence is indicated in the participation of the largest defense companies from across the world in this exhibition."
ISDEF's website about IDEX says that there are 200 official delegations and 33 national pavilions at the center, with some 1,100 media expected.
The exhibitor list on ISDEF's website is a who's who of Israeli brands. IMCO, which integrates important systems, will be there to showcase its new abilities; Rafael, which makes the Iron Dome, is attending; and UVision, which makes state-of-the-art loitering munitions, will also attend.
BIRD Aerosystems, which helps defend aircraft and critical infrastructure, is expected, along with small arms maker Emtam and drone maker Aeronautics and SK Group, which includes Israel Weapons Industries and Meprolight. Meprolight is an electro-optics company that makes sights. Camero, also part of SK Group, makes radar-based imaging systems.
All of these companies are at the forefront of Israel's best defense technology. For instance, Skylock, which makes counter-drone technology, will be exhibiting.
While ISDEF was a step ahead, the lockdown and now airport closure have presented hurdles. In conversations with other companies that are attending, it is clear that many are still trying to sort out the logistics of getting to Abu Dhabi. This could also present hurdles for any officials or other attendees, such as media from Israel.
ISDEF and IDEX organizers are nevertheless optimistic about the upcoming event.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.