Saudi Arabia Welcomes Israeli Racers for Dakar Rally

Israeli racers participated in the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, another indicator of warming relations between the two countries.

Ten Israelis were welcomed into Saudi Arabia, joining the 563 Dakar Rally competitors for a rally race through Saudi Arabia’s dunes.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off the track to enjoy the sights, but I kept thinking: This is our neighbor. Maybe one day – tomorrow, the day after – I’ll be able just to drive in for a trip,” said Israeli driver Danny Pearl to The Jerusalem Post.

The official Dakar Rally website listed the Israeli competitors as either Belgian or American, likely due to Saudi Arabia’s desire to keep its improving relations with Israel hidden.

The Dakar Rally, a motor racing event, began in 1978 and is considered “one of the hardest sporting challenges of our era,” according to the Dakar website.

Historically, Saudi Arabia has been anti-Israel, citing its support for the Palestinian cause as reason to maintain severed ties.

However, in the last year, Saudi Arabia has shown willingness to reconsider its relations with Israel; although, it has not yet signed an official normalization deal.

In 2018, the United Arab Emirates also signaled warming relations with Israel by hosting an Israeli motor racing team for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which was a “milestone in sports relations,” according to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Similar to Saudi Arabia’s current hesitancy to acknowledge the Israeli presence prior to having official diplomatic ties, the UAE did not confirm Israeli participation in the event at the time.

In September 2020, the UAE became the first Arab country to sign onto the Abraham Accords brokered by President Trump, in a monumental step to normalizing relations between Arab countries and Israel.

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