Bennett welcomed in Abu Dhabi by Emirati FM on first official visit by Israeli PM

‘We expect to strengthen the relationship between the countries,’ premier tells Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan; will meet Monday with crown prince

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sits with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi on December 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sits with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi on December 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday met with the United Arab Emirates’ top diplomat as he became the first Israeli premier to officially visit Abu Dhabi.

Bennett was greeted at the airport by Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and an honor guard after landing.

“I appreciate your warm hospitality. This is a wonderful reception. I am very excited to be here, on the first official visit by an Israeli leader here,” Bennett told bin Zayed, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We expect to strengthen the relationship between the countries,” he added.

The Emirati foreign minister is the brother of the UAE’s de-facto leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, whom Bennett will meet Monday morning.

Bennett’s flight came several hours after his office announced the visit to the UAE. He flew with a scaled-down delegation that did not include journalists because of concerns about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed walk past an honor guard in Abu Dhabi on December 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Before departing, the prime minister said the aim of his trip was to further expand ties between Israel and the UAE.

“The ties are excellent and diverse, and we must continue to nurture and strengthen them, and build a warm peace between the two nations,” he said in a video statement from the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport.

His 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.

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

L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House on September 15, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco later also joined the Accords, and other countries were also rumored to be in talks, though none has 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.

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.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, speaks to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace, in Ankara, Turkey, November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

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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