GLOBAL DEFENSE MARKET
DUBAI AIRSHOW ANALYSIS: Israeli Booths Empty at Airshow as Russians Display Their Wares
Laura Heckmann photo
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The 2023 Dubai Airshow is nearly complete, with panels and discussions centered on decarbonization efforts, air mobility and a new space pavilion. However, one thing that was noticeably absent from the venue 1,500 miles from a deadly war raging in the Gaza Strip was any mention of Israel.
Vendors at the airshow bristled at any questions or mention of the conflict, declining to comment, deflecting or speaking off the record. One company representative said: “You’re probably hearing this a lot — you can tell just the idea of even getting close to commenting on anything like that, yeah … everyone kind of steps back.”
Amid the silence, perhaps the loudest statement were two empty booths. Israel Aerospace Industries and Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems both had stands inside the airshow exhibit hall but were left completely empty and unstaffed.
As a result, there was no one to comment on the absence, or why the booths were left empty.
The 2021 Dubai Airshow was Israel’s first appearance at the showcase, which followed the signing of the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement the previous summer, National Defense previously reported.
Two years ago, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems regional manager Rafi Etan told the magazine's correspondent on the sidelines of the show “the hospitality, the flexibility — everyone makes us feel like home, really. I’m not talking on behalf of myself. I’m talking on behalf of the Israel industry. I think all of us feel at home at this point.” Other Israeli companies such as Sinbad were grouped together at the show to create an Israeli Pavilion.
Much has changed in two years, reflected by the ghostly stands of two absent companies against the bustling pavilion two years before. Israel now finds itself in the midst of a bloody war after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7.
Israel’s military response has since sparked controversy, with some condemning Israel’s actions and calling for a ceasefire. One day after the attack, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement calling the attacks “a serious and grave escalation.” Today, the UAE has not officially cut ties from Israel.
In contrast to Israel’s muted presence, Russia — also embroiled in a war with Ukraine after invading the country nearly nine months ago — was not only present, but announced its attendance in dramatic fashion when the Russian Knights Display Team roared over the airshow on day one.
While Russian vendors were notably absent at Europe's last two major defense trade shows — Eurosatory in Paris and DSEI in London — the Dubai Airshow organizers put out the welcome mat for them. The pariah state did not shy away from displaying its wares at the airshow, including a display of Russian Helicopter’s Ka-52 attack helicopter, which has been used in Ukraine. A mammoth IL-76MD-90A military transport aircraft was also on display.
In addition its static display area, Russia had a dedicated pavilion with four companies represented: Rostec, United Aircraft Corp., Rosoboronexport and Almaz-Antey Corp. Both the pavilion and displays were positioned on the far edge of the static display area.
A statement from the Russian government Monday said: “Russia is a traditional participant in the international exhibition, and the aerospace industry products presented arouse great interest among foreign colleagues. This year our country presented over 250 samples of products. Modern military aeroplanes and helicopters, the latest guided missiles, UAVs, air defense systems, parachute systems; Russia traditionally surprises the exhibition’s participants and guests with the most advances technologies.”
Additionally, an Indian-Russian joint venture called BrahMos Aerospace was present inside the exhibit hall touting its supersonic cruise missile. The company, based in New Delhi, first partnered with Russia in 1998.
A spokesperson for the company who requested to remain anonymous said Russia has been instrumental in the missile’s scram technology, and “we have gotten extremely good results from the association with them so far.” The missiles are being marketed to “anyone who is friendly to both India and Russia,” he said.
When asked if the company saw itself competing with the United States in the hypersonic missile race, which currently includes Russia and China, he said: “Why not?”
The United States has led a global coalition imposing sanctions to prevent defense goods from being imported to Russia that could assist in its illegal war against Ukraine. A Nov. 3 U.S. Treasury Department statement listed Turkey, the People's Republic of China and the UAE as three main sources of dual use items Moscow can use to wage war. The statement listed about a dozen UAE-based companies that have exported dual use items to Russia.