Israeli PM’s First Official Visit To UAE Highlights Shared Concern About Iran

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has met the UAE’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on Monday during the first-ever visit to the UAE by an Israeli PM. On arrival in Abu Dhabi after a flight from Tel Aviv, Bennett was welcomed by an honour guard and the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.

“What a wonderful reception. I am very excited to be here on behalf of my people (on the) first official visit of an Israeli leader here,” Bennett said. “We are looking forward to strengthening the relationship,” he added.

The two countries normalized relations last year as part of a US-brokered agreement known as the Abraham Accords. Back then, the UAE was interested in accessing modern weapons systems and establishing a long-term bond with the US through extensive arms cooperation. In fact, it secured a deal for advanced F-35 fighter jets.

Multiple deals have since followed, ranging from health, tourism, energy and business to technology.

During the past months, Israel has sought to broaden its economic relations while seeking to strengthen Gulf ties at a time of heightened regional tension as world powers try to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The deal was opposed by Israel and abandoned in 2018 by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Israel says it is determined to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes.

Talks are being held in Vienna to bring the United States back into the deal and return Iran to full compliance with its commitments.

Bennett has called for the talks to be halted, accusing Tehran of “nuclear blackmail” and charging that it will use any revenue from sanctions relief to bolster a military arsenal that can harm Israel. He also wants US President Joe Biden to end the talks and take actions against Iran such as tighter sanctions and preparing for possible military strikes.

This meeting can further “send a message to the international community that Israel and the UAE cannot and will not necessarily wait to see what happens to the JCPOA negotiations and that both countries are intent on moving ahead with their own security arrangements that meet their perceived regional interests,” explains fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen to Core Middle East.

Yet the UAE has also reached out to its Iran, sending its senior national security adviser there last Monday to meet his Iranian counterpart and President Ebrahim Raisi, Reuters report. In the upcoming days, “any Iranian action may be designed to try and highlight the fact that there is no Arab (or even Arab Gulf) consensus on normalization with Israel and on closer security and defence cooperation so that whatever Emirati or Israeli leaders may say or do, it does not mean that they are speaking for the wider region as a whole,” explains Coates.

Last year, Israel also deepened its relationship with Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco in a move seen as a blow to the longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalization with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians. Palestinians see in these deals a setback for their demands for statehood.

This new meeting is “further evidence that Emirati leaders are prepared to forge ahead with deepening relationships with their Israeli counterparts without waiting for any substantial shift in the Palestinian issue, which until the Abraham Accords in 2020 was the default Arab regional position as set out by the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, which remains the Saudi position to this day”, concludes fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute, Kristian Coates.

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