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Bennett becomes first Israeli PM to make official visit to the UAE

What happened: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrived in the UAE last night, becoming the first Israeli prime minister to make an official visit to the Gulf.

  • This morning he will meet with the Emirati technology and culture ministers and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in his palace in Abu Dhabi.
  • The two leaders are expected to discuss expanding bilateral ties in a range of fields including regional security issues.
  • On departure Bennett said: “The visit is designed to deepen cooperation between the countries in all spheres. The relations are excellent and extensive, and we need to continue to nurture and strengthen them, and to build the warm peace between the two peoples.”
  • On arrival in Abu Dhabi last night he was welcomed by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and a guard of honour.
  • Bennett gave an interview to the Emirates News Agency (WAM), where he said that the Abraham Accords established a “new, deep and solid structure for diplomatic, economic and cultural relations”.
  • Bennett continued: “This is what the peace and the new reality this region is witnessing, and we are working together to ensure a better future for our children … the relations between the two countries have strengthened in all fields, and I am very satisfied with that, as many cooperation agreements were concluded in the fields of trade, research and development, and cyber security, health, education, aviation and more, and I look forward to the continued development and consolidation of relations.”
  • Bennett added that the “the values of tolerance, peace and dialogue are common, and that is why the friendship that unites us developed at such a high speed”.
  • Regarding trade, Bennett noted  how “the volume of mutual trade between us has expedited within a few months with limitless future opportunities to develop it”.

Context: In the background of this visit are the stalled talks over Iran’s nuclear programme in Vienna.

  • Israeli media has suggested that Bennett will present his host with new Israeli intelligence about Iran’s deployment of UAVs and their proxy militias in the region.
  • Iran’s use of UAVs and suicide drones, particularly against shipping in the Gulf, has been a major source of concern for oil-exporting states.
  • Despite the warm ties between Israel and the UAE, Israel is concerned that senior Emirati officials are also engaging in dialogue with the Iranians.  Last week the UAE National Security Adviser Tahnoun bin Zayed (who is also the crown prince’s half-brother) visited Tehran. This was the first meeting between the countries’ national security advisors in five years, but attests to Emirati concern over the perceived US withdrawal from the region.
  • In this context, Israel could also be seen as a more reliable long-term partner. Just last month the UAE navy participated in a join exercise with the US and Israel in the Red Sea. Also, the head of UAE air force visited Israel and hosted the Israeli air force commander in the Emirates.

Looking ahead: Bennett’s meeting with the Emirati Crown Prince will include a state reception, which will be followed by a meeting and a shared lunch, after which Bennett will return to Israel.

  • In his interview with WAM, Bennett said: “The Israeli pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai embodies an optimistic outlook for tomorrow and a boundless quest to make it better, not only for us, but for our friends and allies all over the world in various fields, and this is a fundamental value of Judaism.”
  • Israel hopes that the warm ties developing between the two countries will serve as an inspiration to other countries and leaders in the region.
  • It’s possible that the UAE approach of “speaking to everyone” could serve as a secret back channel for exchanging messages with Iran, which might help avoid a future military confrontation.
(Photo credit: Haim Zach, Israeli Government Press Office)

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