Bennett makes unannounced visit to Abu Dhabi to meet with UAE’s ruler

As a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers seems more distant, prime minister set to discuss ‘regional issues’ with Mohamed bin Zayed

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, June 9, 2022 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, June 9, 2022 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Abu Dhabi Thursday morning to meet with United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan.

The visit was kept under wraps until Bennett landed in the UAE capital.

The prime minister was met at the airport by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed along with an honor guard. He was slated to then meet with MBZ in his palace for a private talk, followed by a larger working meeting.

According to a statement put out by Bennett’s office, the two leaders were set to speak about “regional issues,” in all likelihood referring to the stalled Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, Iran’s proxy forces, the Abraham Accords, and fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement before boarding the plane, Bennett said he would bring a message of consolation on the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed in May at the age of 73. MBZ, Khalifa bin Zayed’s half-brother, has been the UAE’s effective ruler since the latter’s stroke in 2014.

President Isaac Herzog, accompanied by Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, flew to Abu Dhabi in May to offer Israel’s condolences to MBZ.

President Isaac Herzog meets his new UAE counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to pay his condolences on the passing of the Gulf state’s late leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 15, 2022. (President’s Office)

Bennett called MBZ a “man of vision, a brave leader.”

“Today we will build another floor in the special connection taking shape between two countries for the growth and security of two nations,” Bennett continued before boarding the plane.

The prime minister also praised the International Atomic Energy Agency for its censure of Iran on Wednesday.

This is the third meeting between the two leaders in the last six months.

In March, Bennett met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and MBZ in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss “global developments,” likely the Russia-Ukraine war.

The premier also met with MBZ in December, when he made the first-ever visit by an Israeli prime minister to the Gulf country.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (R), Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (C) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meet in Sharm el-Sheikh, March 22, 2022 (Spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency)

Bennett’s June trip comes less than two weeks after the two countries signed a comprehensive, “groundbreaking” free trade agreement in a bid to boost economic ties, as trade hit about $2.5 billion in the less than two years since the US-brokered Abraham Accords were inked, according to recent estimates.

The UAE and Israel signed a normalization agreement in 2020 as part of the US-backed Abraham Accords. Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco also normalized ties with Israel in the framework of the accords.

Despite the positive developments, there have been minor signs of friction in the Israel-UAE relationship. A day after a record number of Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day, the UAE foreign ministry called on Israel to provide “full protection” at the site, and urged respect for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s informal role as custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

The statement also called for an end to “provocative violations” at the Temple Mount, and urged “maximum restraint” from Israel to avoid further instability.

In addition, plans to build a permanent sanctuary for Dubai’s fast-expanding Jewish congregation have sputtered to a standstill, Jewish leaders say. The new community is running up against hurdles that religious groups long have grappled with in the federation, where the state’s official religion of Islam is closely monitored, non-Muslim practice is controlled, and religious buildings are limited.

AP contributed to this report. 

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