On Monday, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan received Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the first public meeting between the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates and an Israeli politician.
The topic of Iran, according to Israel’s envoy in Abu Dhabi, is on the agenda for their meetings, which come after the formalization of Israel-UAE relations last year under a US-led regional effort.
While the UAE’s diplomatic initiatives were motivated in part by a shared worry over Iranian activities, the UAE has also been attempting to strengthen relations with Tehran.
The Israeli prime minister’s office praised the encounter as “historic,” releasing images of Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed laughing and shaking hands.
A statement on state news agency WAM said Sheikh Mohammed voiced hope for “stability in the Middle East” and that Bennet’s visit would “advance the relationship of cooperation towards more positive steps in the interests of the people of the two nations and of the region”.
The Palestinians, whose diplomacy with Israel has been stalled since 2014, have deplored the Israeli-Emirati rapprochement.
Israeli Ambassador Amir Hayek declined to elaborate on any discussion of Iran but he told Israel’s Army Radio: “The prime minister did not only come here solely to address the Iranian issue.”
With world powers now trying to renew the Iran nuclear deal, Abu Dhabi last week sent an envoy to Tehran. A U.S. delegation is due in the UAE this week to warn Emirati banks against non-compliance with sanctions on Iran.
Iran is Israel’s arch-foe, but it has not been mentioned publicly by Bennett since he set off on Sunday to the UAE with pledges to promote bilateral commerce and other forms of civilian cooperation.
The Israel Hayom newspaper, quoting unnamed officials, said Bennett was expected to brief Sheikh Mohammed on intelligence regarding Iranian-supplied militias and drones in the region.
Israel last month broached setting up joint defenses against Iran with Gulf Arab states. Hayek said military sales to UAE are in the works, though Israeli industry sources say advanced Israeli air defense systems have yet to be offered.
“Israel is in cooperation with a new friend, with a partner for the long-term, and the considerations will be both considerations of defense and also considerations of how you work with a country which is very, very, very friendly to Israel,” Hayek said.
Israel-UAE bilateral trade in goods alone reached nearly $500 million so far in 2021 – up from $125 million in 2020 – and is expected to continue growing rapidly.