West Asia

Israel PM Naftali Bennett makes first official visit to UAE

Published : December 13, 2021 13:54 IST

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Photo: Haim Zach/Israel Gpo/ZUMA Wire/imago images

Bennett has been welcomed in Abu Dhabi in what he called a "historic" visit.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrived in the United Arab Emirates on December 12, marking the first official visit by an Israeli premier, after they established diplomatic ties last year. Bennett was first received in Abu Dhabi by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The prime minister said he appreciated the "very warm hospitality." "I'm very excited to be here... as the first official visit of an Israeli leader here. We are looking forward to strengthening the relationship," he said.

Bennett is expected to meet Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on December 13 for talks on strengthening economic and commercial ties. Shortly before takeoff from Tel Aviv, Bennett said his trip "is aimed at deepening the cooperation between the countries, in all fields." "The relations are excellent and extensive, and we must continue to nurture and strengthen them, and build the warm peace between the people," Bennett said in a video issued by his office.

Normalization of ties

Israel and the UAE last year signed a normalization deal, brokered by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump under the "Abraham Accords'' — a series of accords that normalizes diplomatic relations with several Arab countries,including Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The accords were named after the biblical patriarch revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. "In just one year since normalizing our relationship, we've already seen the extraordinary potential of the Israel-UAE partnership. This is just the beginning," Bennett said.

Concerns over Iran nuclear program

Bennett's trip takes place against the backdrop of struggling nuclear talks with Tehran, who has pushed for sanctions relief in Vienna as world powers try to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Both Israel and the UAE have long shared fears over Iran's nuclear activities. Their agreement to normalize ties only increased tensions with Tehran, which says its nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes.

In recent weeks, Israel has reiterated threats to take military action against Iran if diplomacy fails. The UAE has also reached out to Iran in a bid to ease tensions, sending senior national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Tehran last Monday to meet his Iranian counterpart, including the new hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Israel-UAE cooperation has been condemned by some Palestinians, whose diplomacy with Israel stalled in 2014. Bennett's visit "violates the Arab consensus that is supposed to support the Palestinian cause amid the challenges imposed by the (Israeli) occupation," Reuters cited Wasel Abu Youssef of the Palestine Liberation Organization as saying.

mvb (AFP, AP, Reuters)

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor