The latest Israel-Hamas war began one month ago with the October 7 terrorist attacks. It’s another conflict that will have significant impacts on the future of the region and potentially the world. While the nature of a conflict changes over time, one constant is the presence of timepieces on the wrist of those making decisions. Our content is often influenced by current events, so today we’re looking at watches of the Middle East.
As usual, we take an intelligence officer’s approach–devoid of opinion– as we explore the wrists of decision-makers, past and present, in the Middle East.
Analysis of Foreign Leaders Timepieces
As discussed in the previous Dispatch, “CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces,” a foreign leader’s or warfighter's timepiece can tell us a lot about their character, how they perceive themselves, and how they want to be perceived by others. Analyzing a practitioner's watch can provide unique insight into both their personality and what they are trying to telegraph to their own constituents as well as the larger world, something especially true in today’s information war, which is something both Hamas and the Israelis engage in with varying efficacy.
1 September 2010. During Middle East negotiations, Egyptian President Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel check their watches to see if the sun has set; during Ramadan. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Watches and the Middle East
In the Middle East, watches play a significant role in diplomacy and business. They are just as much a status symbol as anywhere else; however, in diplomacy and intelligence circles, senior government officials present Swiss watches as gifts to recognize and honor a personal relationship.
As a personal touch, many Middle Eastern governments special-order watches with the royal or national military crest on the dial or caseback to present as gifts. Prior to joining CIA, I was given a Breitling Aerospace from King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein and I have since acquired a second Jordanian Breitling Aerospace from Abdullah’s father, his Majesty Hussein bin Talal.
Additionally, on one of my first days at CIA as a junior trainee, I was provided $20,000 in cash and sent to an authorized dealer in McLean, Virginia, to purchase a timepiece for the Director of CIA to give as a gift to the visiting head of a Middle Eastern intelligence service.
War: To Study, Not Glorify
While we often explore the dark corners of horology, we do not seek to glorify war or take a side on this particular conflict or any other. Coverage does not signify endorsement; watches are simply our prism for looking at history and current events in the way we know best: analyzing the wrists of those involved.
Israel has a long history with military timepieces. Everything from Rolex and Omega to Seiko can be seen on the wrists of Generals, spooks and Prime Ministers. Isser Harel was reportedly awarded this Rolex Submariner ref 5512 at the conclusion of his 11 year tenure as Director of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad in 1963. The watch was complete with an engraving containing his name and the Mossad insignia on the caseback.
Rolex Sub 5512 belonging to former Mossad Director Isser Harel, (Photo Credit: Antiquorum)
Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu- Panerai PAM048
Prime Minister Netanyahu regularly wears a Panerai Luminor PAM048, as was seen when he met with Israeli Defense Force (IDF) personnel while planning the response to the 7 October attacks. The PM served five years in a Special Operations unit of the IDF, Sayeret Matkal, with multiple combat deployments including a 1968 operation into Lebanon and the rescue of Sabena Flight 571.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin- Rolex Submariner 1680
Photo Credit: Tiroche Auction House
Yitzhak Rabin served as the Israeli Prime Minister from 1974 until 1977 and again from 1992 until his assassination in 1995 by ultranationalist Yigal Amir. Rabin was a career military officer. He oversaw Israeli operations during the 1967 Six-Day War and ultimately served as Minister of Defense for much of the 1980s.
Rabin reportedly purchased this Rolex Submariner 1680 in Washington, D.C. when he became Israeli Ambassador to the US in 1972. The watch sold at auction for $95,000 in 2021.
Former Minister of Defense Benny Gantz - Breitling Aerospace
Breitling has long adorned the wrists of military personnel in both Israel and Arab nations. Pictured below is Former Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz wearing a Breitling Aerospace.
Breitling has also produced several limited editions for Israel, including a Breitling Aerospace featuring the Star of David for the fifty year anniversary of Israel.
Photo Credit: AAG Auctioneers
Yasser Arafat- Rolex Datejust
Yasser Arafat (kunya- Abu Ammar) was Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from the late 1960s until the early 2000s and wore several watches, including a Rolex Datejust (pictured). A number of profiles have noted his obsession with time, constantly checking his watch.
In a 1989 Vanity Fair article, the author mentioned Arafat's lack of personal possessions, except for toiletry items and an expensive watch. When asked about the watch, Arafat replied:
“It’s a Rolex, and works well.” Then he laughed and said, “But I don’t want to do propaganda for them.”
King Abdullah II - MTM Black Falcon
King Abdullah II of Jordan wearing a tactical MTM Black Falcon, which appears to be his daily wear. He embodies a "Warrior-King" ethos and judging from my limited personal experience seems to truly live this philosophy.
His Majesty attended Sandhurst (British Royal Military Academy) in the UK and spent a career in the military. In 1994 he assumed command of Jordan's Special Operations Forces and built the Joint Special Operations Command. He is western-educated, attended Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and a course at American Naval Postgraduate School. He’s also a Black Hawk pilot, as you may recall from a previous Dispatch article on the Jordanian Breitling.
King Hussein bin Talal - Breitling Cosmonaute 809
Jordanian King Hussein bin Talal is pictured below wearing a custom Breitling Cosmonaute 809 during a military exercise in 1969. While we’re not entirely certain, the young boy is likely the current King Abdullah II, as the then-prince would have been seven years old at the time.
According to Breitling aficionado Fred Mandelbaum ( @watchfred ), the connection between Breitling and King Hussein bin Talal started in 1965 and 1966, when he ordered several Navitimer 806s and Cosmonaute 809s in steel and had this Special Edition solid gold Cosmonaute 809 made for his personal collection.
(Photo Credit: @ watchfred)
The "King Hussein" in lustrous 18k gold, manufactured “ex ledger” without serial number and model reference for the private collection of Hussein bin Talal, the King of Jordan, with only his coat of arms on the caseback.
Hafiz Al-Assad - Commissioned Rolex “Syrian Submariner”
Hafiz Al-Assad served as the President of Syria from 1971 until June 2000. During his tenure, he commissioned several Rolex pieces, including a “Polar dial” Explorer II (ref. 16550), Sea-Dweller (ref 1665) and this Submariner (Ref. 5513). Notably, each reference contains Al-Assad’s signature in red Arabic script, which have led some to refer to this as the “Syrian Submariner.”
(Photo Credit: Hairspring)
(Photo Credit: Hairspring)
The below Sea-Dweller was reportedly a personal watch of Assad, and was gifted to his chef in return for a Ramadan meal.
(Photo Credit: 10 Past Ten / Eric Ku)
Hosni Mubarak - Rolex GMT
Former President and Egyptian Air Force commander, Hosni Mubarak wore a Rolex GMT-Master on a steel and gold Jubilee bracelet during a meeting with Yasser Arafat. Mubarak reportedly owned several Rolex watches, including another Pepsi GMT and a Rolex Date-Just.
Photo Credit: Unknown, sourced from Jake’s Rolex World
Major General Abbas Kamel, the Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate (EGID), wearing a not-yet-identified watch during a visit to Gaza. Palestinian security detail wearing a plethora of Digital Tool Watches.