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An Israeli businessman, who’s been operating in the United Arab Emirates’ commercial hub of Dubai for the past 14 years, is in talks to buy Israel’s Israir Airlines, hoping a new normalization pact between the countries will offer an opportunity for expanded operations.
NY Koen Group’s chief executive officer, Naum Koen, was born in Ukraine, became a naturalized Israeli citizen in 1994 and in 2006, using his Ukrainian passport set up shop in the emirate with a diamond-cutting and supply business. It’s since grown into a holding company involved in diamonds, private aviation, digital technologies, construction and security.
Now, freed from operating under the radar as an Israeli dual-national, he’s negotiating to buy Israir based on a valuation of about $25 million. He estimates the airline will need a cash infusion of up to $20 million to pay for debts and improvements.
“The recent development of the peace treaty between Israel and the UAE, and the peace negotiations between Israel and other countries in the Gulf make it very interesting for me to get into Israir as a tourism company,” the Russian-speaking Koen said through a translator. “I expect thousands and thousands of Israeli tourists that will come to Dubai, and the corona will not stop them.”
Read: Israir Schedules Tel Aviv-Dubai Flights Starting Oct. 2
Koen’s valuation falls short of the roughly $34 million March estimate Israir received from its current owner, IDB Development Corp. BGI Investments, an Israeli firm co-owned by discounter Rami Levy, is offering $21 million.
Israir officials visiting Dubai last week approached billionaire Khalaf Al Habtoor, but a company spokeswoman said he isn’t interested in bidding. He is, however, discussing cooperating with Israir on packages that would bring Israeli tourists to his hotels in Dubai, she said.
A spokeswoman for Israir declined to comment on the sales process. The bidding deadline is Nov. 8, Levy said.
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