The channel has strong connections to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will broadcast its content from the UAE in a bid to reach Arab audiences.
In recent weeks, Gaza has been under constant Israeli bombardment while Palestinian residents of the centuries-old Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem face evictions from their homes.
But nothing has changed between Israel and the UAE who signed a normalisation deal last year. Now, a private Israeli channel with strong connections with the country’s hardliner politician Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that it will open a media office in Dubai.
"In the last year, we have witnessed regional diplomatic changes that enable business ties and opportunities for partnerships," said Frank Melloul, chief executive of i24News, who is a Swiss-Israeli operator, and a former media adviser to the French government.
Yousef Alhelou, a Palestinian political analyst, sees the move as an act to normalise relations further between the two countries, whose diplomatic relationship has been strengtened with the normalisation deal to almost a level of an alliance.
“Dubai is a very important and strategic city, where Israel wants to have influence and spread information to the Arab world. Dubai is both an international city and a media centre. Having an office there will make sure Israel has a voice within the Arab world,” Alhelou tells TRT World.
Dubai Media Incorporated, a state-owned media organisation, also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Israeli group, signalling that i24news’s UAE venture amounts to more than just a business opportunity.
i24news and the Dubai group will cooperate in various fields from media technology to content creation, connecting with each other through an optical line called “Fibre of Peace”, which will also allow information sharing between the Gulf and Israel.
“They [Israel and the UAE] have begun cooperating in all fields,” says Zeliha Khasman, a professor of international relations at the Near East University in Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. Media is a sector useful for both economic and political purposes, helping Israel develop “a positive image” across the Arab world, she says.
Reaching Arab audiences
Israel’s i24news, whose general content is broadcast in Arabic, English and French, aims to carry its content in the UAE through two Emirati telecom operators, Etisalat and DU.
“The establishment of our office in Dubai Media City gives us a strategic platform to expand our coverage of the Middle East right from the heart of the region's media industry hub," Melloul said.
The establishment of the Dubai office for i24news will give Israel a chance to spread its messages to Arab audiences, says Alhelou. “It will have a chance to defend itself against the Palestinian resistance,” the analyst views.
With this new media office, Israel will also have an opportunity to build on UAE-Israel normalisation and “influence other Arab countries” to come to terms with Tel Aviv, he adds.
“Israel wants normalisation with the whole Arab geography, as it did with the UAE. Although Arab-Israeli normalisation is very easy to be conducted in the UAE, it is very, very difficult for Israel to go through this process in other Arab regions, especially with its neighbors,” Khasman tells TRT World.
But using “soft power” through media groups like i24news and the UAE, Israel will have an opportunity to penetrate the Arab world, the professor says. She also draws attention to the fact that i24news and Abu Dhabi Media Group signed a cooperation deal in December, promising to collaborate in fields like content production, film industry and education.
“Such cooperation may lead to the formation of a more moderate Arab world towards Israel in the long run,” Khasman says.
The owner of i24News is Patrick Drahi, an elusive Moroccan-born Jewish billionaire, who owns the multinational telecom firm Altice, holds four citizenships, French, Israeli, Moroccan and Portuguese.
Despite the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation and aggression, diplomatic ties continue and states decide what’s going to happen, Alhelou says, referring to both the UAE-Israel normalisation and i24news’s new office opening in Dubai.
“This office will serve Israeli interests in the region,” he says.
How normalisation goes
While the recent Israeli aggression exposed the political fragility of normalisation and the weakness of its Arab sponsors like the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ), who showed he has no leverage over Tel Aviv to stop its aggression against Palestinians, ties between the two countries have stayed intact, says Alhelou.
“There might have been some reservations. Some calls were [probably] made between Israeli and UAE officials to defuse tensions. But anything happens in occupied Palestinian territories will not cancel the peace agreement between the two countries,” the Palestinian analyst asserts.
Despite the fact that Palestinians were able to gain the empathy of a large portion of Western audiences and even press, in the UAE, there was no real change of heart toward the plight of Palestinians.
“Since there is neither war nor any other conflict with Israel, normalisation continues without any problems,” Khasman observes, citing developments like the construction of a synagogue and the opening of kosher restaurants across the UAE.
“The UAE follows a very pragmatic policy,” she adds.
Delegations between Israel and the UAE come and go and promotions for further normalisation continue, Alhelou says. When UAE delegations come to occupied territories in Palestine, they visit Israeli cities not Palestinian towns, he says.
“They don’t listen to Palestinian voices. Of course Palestinians were outraged by these acts because they expect an Arab country, the UAE, should listen to them and support them and pressure Israel.”
The UAE should use its influence to pressure Israel to respect human rights and allow Palestinians to have their own independent state, the analyst says. But by normalising relations with Israel, the UAE only helps Tel Aviv prevent Palestinians from having “a normal life”, he concludes.
“For Palestinians, it’s like a stab in the back.”