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Bennett makes landmark visit to UAE for meeting with crown prince

PM, the first Israeli premier to openly visit Gulf state, will meet Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to discuss ‘deepening ties’ between countries a year on from Abraham Accords

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett boards a plane at Ben Gurion Airport for the United Arab Emirates, on December 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett boards a plane at Ben Gurion Airport for the United Arab Emirates, on December 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday flew to Abu Dhabi to meet with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in the first official visit of an Israeli premier to the United Arab Emirates.

Bennett, who departed from Ben Gurion Airport following the weekly cabinet meeting, will be in Abu Dhabi for just a day, with his meeting with the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates scheduled for Monday morning.

“The visit is meant to deepen cooperation between the countries in all fields. The ties are excellent and diverse and we must continue to nurture and strengthen them, and build a warm peace between the two nations,” Bennett said in a video statement from the tarmac before departing.

He touched down in Abu Dhabi a few hours later.

The trip was announced by his office earlier in the day.

“The leaders will discuss deepening ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, with an emphasis on economic and regional issues that will contribute to prosperity, welfare and strengthening stability between the countries,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Bennett’s visit also comes as Israel and its Gulf allies fret about Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Iran and world powers stalled again last week.

The prime minister flew with a reduced delegation that did not include journalists, due to concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Israel and the UAE forged ties in the United States-brokered Abraham Accords last year, bringing over a decade of covert ties into the open, and have seen their relationship flourish since then.

Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, attends the Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on November 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco later also joined the Abraham Accords, and other countries were also rumored to be in talks, though none have come to fruition so far.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was instrumental in the signing of the Abraham Accords, repeatedly tried to schedule a visit to the UAE but was forced to cancel on a number of occasions and never made the trip as premier.

US President Donald Trump, center, with, from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Bennett’s visit comes a week after President Isaac Herzog spoke with the crown prince for the first time. The two leaders discussed deepening collaboration between the countries to bolster regional stability and the need for a free trade agreement between the UAE and Israel, Herzog’s office said.

The crown prince said he was looking forward to an official visit by Herzog to the UAE.

In June, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid officially inaugurated Israel’s embassy in the UAE.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is party to the nuclear talks in Vienna, met with the crown prince during a tour of the Gulf earlier this month.

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