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'I am bringing a blessing of peace to the entire region'

Herzog lands in Emirates for landmark visit, is greeted by Emirati FM

President to meet powerful crown prince, open Israel national day at Dubai Expo during two-day jaunt, as threat of Houthi missiles hangs over Gulf state

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog and greeted in Abu Dhabi by Emirati FM Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog and greeted in Abu Dhabi by Emirati FM Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog landed in Abu Dhabi Sunday morning for the first-ever official visit by an Israeli president to the United Arab Emirates.

Herzog and his wife were given a festive welcome by UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, after which they held a working meeting.

The president’s plane flew over Saudi Arabia, a powerful Sunni state with which Israel does not have formal diplomatic relations. According to Herzog’s office, he entered the cockpit to view the Saudi desert, and remarked, “No doubt, this is truly a very moving moment.”

Herzog was invited for the two-day visit by Abu Dhabi’s powerful Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, known colloquially as MBZ and seen as the UAE’s de facto ruler.

Herzog is slated to visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and will meet with bin Zayed, Dubai ruler Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Expo 2020 Dubai Commissioner-General and Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Emirati business leaders, and members of the Jewish community in the country.

The president will also open Israel’s national day at Dubai Expo 2020 on Monday.

President Isaac Herzog meets with Emirati FM Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, January 30, 2022 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

“I am bringing with me a blessing of peace and a message of peace to the entire region, to the peoples of the region,” said Herzog. “Peace brings with it prosperity, progress, and growth for the benefit of the peoples of the region.

“I will be meeting the leadership of the United Arab Emirates, at the personal invitation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince, and I wish him well and I am grateful for his courage and bold leadership, carving out a peace agreement with Israel and sending a message to the entire region that peace is the only alternative for the peoples of the region,” he added.

After his meeting Foreign Minister bin Zayed, Herzog will head to the royal palace for an official ceremony hosted by MBZ.

Later in the day, the president and first lady will meet with local Jewish leaders, along with Israel’s envoy to the UAE, Amir Hayek.

Israel and the UAE forged ties in the United States-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, bringing over a decade of covert contacts into the open, and have seen their relationship flourish since then.

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)

Travel warnings

The visit comes after the UAE came under attack from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, with a drone attack on oil facilities in Abu Dhabi killed three workers earlier this month.

Last Wednesday, the US State Department updated its travel advisory for the Gulf state, warning Americans against visiting because of the missile and drone threat.

“The possibility of attacks affecting US citizens and interests in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula remains an ongoing, serious concern,” the travel advisory said. “Rebel groups operating in Yemen have stated an intent to attack neighboring countries, including the UAE, using missiles and drones. Recent missile and drone attacks targeted populated areas and civilian infrastructure.”

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against a Nuclear Iran, told The Times of Israel that the Expo, especially during Israel day and Herzog’s visit, could present an enticing target for Houthi rebels.

“They’re trying to increase the cost for the Emirates in that way,” he said. “They are seeking to make the Emirates an inhospitable environment for the international business world. Targeting the Dubai Expo would be consistent with that vision.”

Supporters of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels carry a mock rocket as they demonstrate in the capital Sanaa to denounce a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on a prison in the country’s rebel-held north, on January 21, 2022. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

It also would serve Iran’s interest, demonstrating its leverage over the UAE, he said, while signaling to the international community the risks of not reaching a nuclear deal in ongoing Vienna talks.

On Thursday, a senior Emirati official vowed Houthi attacks will not become a “new normal” for the UAE, vowing a robust defense.

Despite the US warning, the UAE official also insisted the Gulf country was “ready to defend itself.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide their counterparts in the UAE with any assistance” that could help to protect against future attacks.

“Israel stands with the UAE,” he wrote in a letter to Bin Zayed. “I stand with [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Zayed. The world should stand against terror.”

In December, Bennett met with MBZ at the latter’s palace in Abu Dhabi, as part of the first official visit by an Israeli premier to the UAE.

In this photo provided by the Israel Government Press Office, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, received by an honor guard and the UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/Israel Government Press Office via AP)

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 officially made the trip as premier.

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

According to Bennett’s office, bin Zayed is expected to visit Israel at the prime minister’s invitation.

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