Israel presidential visit to UAE a first as diplomatic relations grow

Israel’s president flew to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday in the first official visit by the country’s head of state, the latest sign of deepening ties between the two nations as tensions rise in the region.

The UAE and Israel normalised relations in the fall of 2020, part of a series of US-brokered diplomatic deals between Israel and Arab states that had long avoided formal ties with Israel over its decades-old conflict with the Palestinians.

The office of president Isaac Herzog said he would be meeting top officials, including Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan — the de facto Emirati leader — along with members of the country’s small but growing Jewish ex-pat community.

Herzog will also visit Expo 2020, the world’s fair hosted in Dubai, where Israel organised a series of events at its national pavilion.

The president plays a largely ceremonial role as a national unifier in Israel’s parliamentary system, where the prime minister holds the most power.

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett made his first official visit to the Gulf Arab sheikhdom last month and discussed strengthening relations on several fronts with Sheikh Mohammed.

Shortly before takeoff, Herzog said his visit sought to bring “a blessing of peace and a message of peace to the entire region”.

The show of Israel-Emirati cooperation comes at a delicate time for the Middle East.

Fighting in Yemen’s seven-year civil war has intensified, widening to reach Emirati soil for the first time this month. The Iran-backed Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-led coalition claimed aerial attacks against Abu Dhabi — one that killed three workers at an industrial area and another intercepted, scattering missile shards over the capital.

The assaults shocked residents, puncturing the sense of safety pervasive in the region’s globalised business hub. The Houthis have threatened further strikes this week.

Meanwhile, negotiations in Vienna between world powers and Iran to curb Tehran’s rapidly expanding nuclear program paused on Friday, with European officials saying the talks had approached “the final stage.”

Former President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the landmark nuclear deal nearly four years ago in a move welcomed by Israel and America’s Gulf Arab allies and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran.

The shared enmity of Iran and mutual fears over its nuclear program helped push the UAE and Israel to formalise relations after years of covert ties.

Palestinian leaders have condemned the normalisation deal as a betrayal of their cause for statehood.


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