Russian citizens will be able to visit Israel without obtaining a visa.
A special Israeli governmental commission announced the visa waiver decision after Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, who initially warned the visa waiver would “flood Israel with thousands of prostitutes and illegal immigrants,” withdrew his objections last week. The commission voted unanimously for the draft bill to be forwarded to the government.
Tourism Minister Isaak Aranovich, who proposed the initiative in July, predicted that the influx of Russian tourists would create up to 10,000 jobs in Israel. He said he expects 250,000 Russian tourists per year to visit Israel.
Ernst & Young analysts say the number of Russian visitors to Israel in the first half of 2007 shot up 54 percent over last year. In the first half of the year, more than 11,000 Israelis visited Russia. Fourteen scheduled flights per week now connect Moscow and Tel Aviv. That number may increase to 21 flights a week by the end of 2007, officials said.
The Israeli commission expects Moscow to issue a similar visa waiver for Israeli citizens. A bilateral agreement on the issue may be signed as early as October when Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov will be in Israel.
However, some experts in Moscow are warning against overly optimistic expectations. Sergei Shpilko, the president of Russia’s tourism union, told Expert magazine that Russia’s Interior and Defense ministries likely will object to waiving the visa requirement for Israelis.