Israel’s Netanyahu ‘cancels trip to UAE’

Local media say Israeli prime minister will not now fly to Abu Dhabi on Thursday

By MEE staff, Middle East Eye

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled his Thursday trip to Abu Dhabi, local media reported, with his wife’s health and Jordanian concerns said to have got in the way.

Netanyahu’s trip would have been the first public visit to the United Arab Emirates by an Israeli premier in history, and was planned to take place just 11 days before Israelis vote in a general election.

The prime minister would have met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and reportedly even Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a landmark event following Israel’s September normalisation agreement with the UAE.

Netanyahu is believed to have met Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Salman previously, however, in clandestine summits that have brought Israel and Gulf Arab states close in recent years.

Sarah Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, was hospitalised overnight Wednesday with appendicitis.

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources told Israeli daily Haartez that Jordan was yet to give clearance to fly over its airspace.

They speculated that was due to a holdup in Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, which was meant to go ahead on Wednesday but was delayed due to a dispute over security arrangements.

On Thursday morning, a source involved in the UAE trip’s planning told Kan, Israel’s national broadcaster, that the visit had been cancelled.

Neither Israel nor the UAE have formally acknowledged that Netanyahu was set to visit Abu Dhabi, and Saudi sources told Reuters no plans had been made for Mohammed bin Salman to travel too.

However, on Wednesday, an Emirati source told the Jerusalem Post “MBS is ready to meet Bibi”, using common nicknames for the Saudi and Israeli leaders respectively.

Netanyahu is fond of a high-profile trip ahead of an election, particularly one that burnishes his diplomatic credentials.

Thursday’s visit would have highlighted the historic normalisation agreements Israel has made with several Arab countries, starting with the UAE and Bahrain in September and followed soon by Sudan and Morocco.

Though the prime minister’s right-wing Likud is set to win the largest number of seats of any party in the elections, he and his allies still look short of enough to form a government.

According to Axios, Netanyahu urged Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto leader, to receive him in a phone call 10 days ago. The Emiratis were reportedly hesitant, however, worried it would be perceived as the UAE interfering with the election.

But Netanyahu pressed hard, Axios reported, sending Mossad head Yossi Cohen to the UAE to press the Emiratis until they acceded to his request.

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