Israeli soccer fans will be able to travel to Qatar for the World Cup in November, despite the two nations having no formal diplomatic relations.
Israel announced the opening of the Gulf state’s borders on Thursday after reaching a deal with world soccer governing body FIFA – but it only applies during the tournament.
In a joint announcement from the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and culture and sport, Israel said its citizens — who ordinarily can only enter Qatar on a foreign passport — will be able to freely travel and attend games there during the upcoming tournament.
Under the terms of the deal reached with FIFA, Israelis seeking to attend must first buy a ticket to a game, then apply online for a Fan ID card, approval of which grants its holder entry to Qatar and enables them to book hotels.
Efforts are also being made to enable direct flights from Israel to the tiny Gulf nation, the announcement said. Until now, Israel has recommended against all non-essential travel to Qatar, setting a warning level for the country at 3 out of 4.
More than 15,000 Israelis have already bought tickets for the tournament in November and December. Security is expected to be particularly high, with more than a million fans from around the world due to flood the Gulf nation, whose population is less than three million.
There was no immediate comment from FIFA or Qatar, which in the past has said it would not block Israelis from attending the tournament.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the move “another diplomatic achievement that will warm the hearts of soccer fans.”
The upcoming World Cup – in which the Israel team is not competing – “opens a gate to new, warm relations,” said Lapid.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed hope that “Israelis visiting [Qatar] will strengthen the bonds of understanding between citizens of the two countries.”
Sporting tournaments have helped improve Israeli diplomatic relations with Gulf countries. In 2018, two years before agreeing to establish ties with Israel, Abu Dhabi began allowing the Israeli flag to be shown and anthem to be heard during sporting events.
Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office from 1995-2000, but is seen as unlikely to join other Gulf states in establishing full ties with Israel due to its own links to Iran.
Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper noted “sports have the power to cross continents and connect peoples and countries,” and welcomed the ability of Israelis to take part “in the biggest celebration of soccer in the world.”
Thursday’s statement did not address security concerns about travel to Qatar, a nation with strong ties to both the West and Iran and the Hamas terror group.
In April, Israel’s National Security Council was considering warning citizens against attending the World Cup amid fears that they could be targets for Iran or its proxies.
Israel has issued warnings to citizens traveling abroad over fears of a revenge attack for the assassination of senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official Hassan Sayyad Khodaei last month, widely attributed to Israel. A warning was specifically issued to all Israelis considering traveling to Turkey.
Qatar said last month that it will only allow foreigners holding match tickets to enter the Gulf state during the World Cup tournament. And FIFA security director Helmut Spahn said last month that the greatest security challenge expected during the World Cup is crowd control, not terrorist threats.
Spahn said: “We had terrorist attack threats [in the past] prior to a World Cup, we had strikes of private security and police, we had problems sometimes with infrastructure at stadiums not being ready. This is not the case here.”
He added that the threat “is low and under control here in Qatar.”
- This article first appeared in Times of Israel
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