On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett landed in the United Arab Emirates, where he would meet the UAE’s de facto ruler in the highest-level visit between the two nations since relations were formalized last year.
Bennett stated before departing from Tel Aviv that he and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan will meet on Monday to explore ways to deepen cooperation and economic and commercial connections.
There was no immediate reaction from Abu Dhabi to the visit, which comes at a time when international powers are attempting to resurrect a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Israel has discussed establishing unified defenses with Gulf Arab neighbors that share its concerns about Iran’s actions. Nonetheless, the UAE has reached out to Iran, sending its senior national security advisor there last Monday to meet with his Iranian counterpart, President Ebrahim Raisi.
Bennett’s presence in Abu Dhabi was confirmed by a representative for the Israeli leader. A flight monitoring tool revealed that his El Al Israel Airlines jet traveled through Saudi Arabia, a nation with which Israel has no diplomatic relations, its route to the UAE.
Since August 2020, the UAE has tried to normalize relations with Israel via a US-sponsored project named the “Abraham Accords,” after the ancient patriarch beloved by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Bennett’s travel to the UAE is the first by an Israeli prime minister to any of those nations since the agreements were signed. Despite the lack of official links, Saudi Arabia agreed last year to allow Israel-UAE planes to pass.
“We’ve already witnessed the incredible potential of the Israel-UAE alliance in only one year since normalizing our connection,” Bennett added.
Palestinians, whose negotiations with Israel halted in 2014, have slammed the reconciliation.
Bennett’s visit “violates the Arab consensus that is intended to support the Palestinian struggle under the obstacles imposed by the (Israeli) occupation,” said Wasel Abu Youssef of the Palestine Liberation Organization umbrella group, according to Reuters.
According to an Israeli publication, Israel has refused to supply missile defense systems to the UAE because of its ties to Iran. According to Israel Hayom, a policy review may now be required, implying that the permission of such shipments may help the UAE distance itself from Tehran.
Requests for comment on the story were not immediately responded to either Israeli or UAE officials.
The Bennett administration is expected to make a decision this week on whether to approve a private Israeli-Emirati deal to unload Gulf oil at the Red Sea port of Eilat. Environmentalists have challenged the agreement in Israel’s Supreme Court, and Bennett’s energy minister opposes it.