What happened: The US-Israeli delegation returned to Ben-Gurion Airport last night after completing its mission to Abu Dhabi. The delegation’s historic trip was the first time an Israeli plane flew over Saudi Arabian airspace, returning even without the US contingent onboard.
- The Israeli delegtion was led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and included senior officials from a range of government ministries, who were split up into several trilateral working groups to discuss diplomacy, finances, aviation and entry visas, health, culture and tourism, space, science and investments, innovation and trade.
- They exchanged more than 170 draft agreements and will now work to conclude a peace agreement.
- In the diplomatic track the Israeli and UAE officials discussed advancing the establishment of full diplomatic relations, including an exchange of embassies that will allow Israelis to enter the UAE on their Israeli passports and Emiratis to visit Israel.
- The first protocol they signed related to cooperation in banking and financial services, promoting joint investments in the capital markets. From Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I welcome the first understandings that have been signed in Abu Dhabi. These understandings will assist us in advancing mutual investments and widespread cooperation. We will soon announce additional agreements in aviation, tourism, trade and others.” In addition, both sides will establish a special working group against money laundering and financing terrorism.
Context: Two weeks ago, Israel and the UAE announced that they had agreed to establish full diplomatic relations. The deal, brokered by the US, required Israel to suspend plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
- Since that announcement, the two countries established direct lines of communication for the first time, with the first phone call between Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed. Last weekend the UAE President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, released an official presidential order that formally cancelled the 48-year economic boycott of Israel.
- Israeli media speculation has suggested that another component of the deal included Israel dropping its objection to the US selling the advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. Israel’s defence establishment is concerned such a deal would diminish Israel’s qualitative military edge, as guaranteed in US law by Congress. Earlier this week, senior US adviser Jared Kushner confirmed that the sale will be discussed in the future between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
- The normalisation agreement is broadly supported by the wider Muslim world, with speculation that other countries could follow the UAE in the future. The significant exceptions being Iran and Turkey. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday: “The UAE betrayed the world of Islam, the Arab nations, the region’s countries, and Palestine. The treason will not last for long … the Emiratis will be disgraced forever.”
- Jamal al-Musharakh, the director of the Emirati Foreign Ministry’s policy planning department, condemned the remarks by Iran’s leader. He said, “We remain with the Arab consensus and Arab resolutions. What we did was halt the annexation. The ultimate end solution is to find a sustainable solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
- Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called the direct flight between Israel and the UAE “a clear and shameful break with the Arab position. It was our hope to see an Emirati plane land in a liberated Jerusalem … it pains us to see an Israeli plane land in the United Arab Emirates.”
- British Ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan said: “We think that the agreement with the UAE benefits the entire region, the Palestinians are an important part in the link between the Israelis and the UAE, we think it could lead to a special moment to start the negotiations again.”
Looking ahead: At the conclusion of the visit, Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz said that he would not be surprised if direct flights were to begin before the end of 2020.
- Israel is aiming to host representatives of the UAE government on a reciprocal visit to Israel. Netanyahu said, “We will welcome the Emirati delegation with a red carpet, just as they welcomed us.”
- This first delegation had a civilian agenda. It is anticipated that within the next two weeks a security delegation, led by Defence Ministry Director Amir Eshel and including defence ministry officials and representatives from the Mossad, will travel to Abu Dhabi to discuss joint security issues.
- A formal signing ceremony in Washington could be announced within the next few weeks. President Trump will be keen to present this achievement ahead of the US presidential election in November.