Israel’s new foreign minister was in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, kicking off the highest-level visit by an Israeli official to the Gulf Arab state since the two countries normalized relations nine months ago.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to meet the UAE’s foreign minister in Abu Dhabi, with talks likely to focus in part on Iran, which both countries view as a top regional threat.
The Emiratis and Israelis had strong reservations about the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers brokered by the Obama administration, which aimed to limit Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Their shared concerns that the deal did not go far enough helped propel quiet ties and covert meetings long before they formally announced full diplomatic relations last year.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat told reporters Tuesday that the pace of bilateral cooperation between the two countries has been “unprecedented.”
“There have been years of under-the-radar relations between Israel and the UAE, and we are now enjoying the fruits of the infrastructure of peace that we’ve built in the last decades,” Haiat said.
The Trump administration brokered the agreement that established ties between the UAE and Israel. It was hailed at the time by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump as among their greatest achievements.
Lapid’s visit to the UAE was one that Netanyahu had hoped to make himself before his 12-year-run at the helm ended earlier this month. He’d repeatedly tried to score a lightning trip to Abu Dhabi to capitalize on the normalization deal his government signed and boost his re-election campaign.
President Joe Biden’s push to revive the nuclear accord after Trump pulled the U.S. out of it has raised concerns among Israelis and several Gulf Arab states, which had favored Trump’s pressure campaign on Iran.
While in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Lapid is to inaugurate Israel’s Embassy. The Israeli foreign ministry says he is also attending a trade expo where Israeli companies are exhibiting technology.
The UAE’s decision to normalize ties with Israel — after the two countries signed the U.S.-brokered “Abraham Accords” — marked the first time in over two decades that an Arab state had established relations with Israel, following Egypt and Jordan in 1979 and 1994, respectively. It was quickly followed by Bahrain, with similar announcements made later by Sudan and Morocco.