Foreign Minister Israel Katz made an unannounced visit to the Gulf city of Abu Dhabi this week, taking part in a UN climate conference and discussing “the Iranian threat” with an Emirati official, his office said.
The trip made Katz the latest high-level Israeli official to make an official visit to the Emirate, and came on the heels of a US-led conference in nearby Bahrain at which Israelis openly met with Gulf officials.
Israel does not have formal diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, which like most Arab countries refuses to recognize the Jewish state over its policies toward the Palestinians.
The two countries, however, have reportedly developed clandestine ties over their shared concern of Iran.
At the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting, which ended Monday, Katz met with an unnamed “senior UAE official” to discuss “regional issues and relations between the countries,” according to a statement from his office.
The meeting focused on “the need to deal with the Iranian threat related to the nuclear issue, missile development, Iran’s support for terrorism in the region, and the violence employed by Iran against the interests of the region,” the statement said.
The two officials also discussed cooperation and bolstering economic ties, especially in the fields of high-tech, energy, agriculture and water.
The statement said Katz also presented his “Tracks for Regional Peace” initiative, a proposal to link Israel’s rail network through Jordan to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, opening the countries to travel and trade, and giving Arab states access to Israel’s Mediterranean ports.
Katz last year presented the plan during a conference in Oman, another Gulf state which has no formal ties with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman and met with the country’s ruler in October, a month before Katz’s visit.
The foreign minister said his trip to Abu Dhabi marked “a significant advancement” in ties between Israel and countries in the Middle East. He also promised to advance Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “normalization through strength policy that we’re leading, whether in the fields of defense and intelligence or in civilian affairs.”
Katz also met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the climate summit, where he raised Israel’s concern for the civilians and bodies of fallen soldiers held by the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.
His visit to the UAE was the third by an Israeli minister to the emirate since October.
During his tenure, Netanyahu has pushed to develop ties with the Gulf states, which, like Israel, view Iran as a major threat. The only Arab countries Israel has formal ties with are Egypt and Jordan.
The trip also came amid other signs of a gradual thaw in ties between Israel and Arab states, such as last week’s US-sponsored conference in Bahrain to roll out the Trump administration’s peace plan.
Though no Israeli officials invited, a number of Israeli journalists were, and the country’s foreign minister told The Times of Israel that Israel’s existence is a fact, and that Bahrain would like peace with the country.
According to a New Yorker report last year, Israel has maintained a clandestine but extremely close relationship with the UAE for over two decades, with their ties focused heavily on intelligence sharing and security cooperation, including potential arms deals.
Israel in 1996 officially opened “trade offices” in Oman and Qatar (which have since closed), but the Jewish state has never had formal ties with the Emirates.