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MBZ: 'Bilateral relations are moving full steam ahead'

In ‘message to the region,’ Herzog meets UAE crown prince in Abu Dhabi

After Hatikva plays, president sits for two hours with the Emirates’ de facto ruler, who invites Herzog to palace for unscheduled follow-up chat

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog inspects an honor guard with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog inspects an honor guard with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog met on Sunday with Abu Dhabi’s powerful Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, known colloquially as MBZ and seen as the UAE’s de facto ruler.

The meeting, which lasted over two hours, was described by the president’s office as “warm and cordial.”

“I wish to emphasize that we completely support your security requirements and we condemn in all forms and language any attack on your sovereignty by terrorist groups,” said Herzog at the beginning of the meeting. “We are here together to find ways and means to bring full security to people who seek peace in our region.”

He also called for more nations to join the Abraham Accords, saying that his visit “sends a message to the entire region that there is an alternative — of peace and living together — and that the sons and daughters of Abraham can reside and dwell together in peaceful coexistence for the benefit of humanity.”

Bin Zayed thanked Herzog for Israel’s condemnation of recent missile and drone attacks on UAE facilities by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“It is a stance that demonstrates our common view of the threats to regional stability and peace, particularly those posed by militias and terrorist forces, as well as our shared understanding of the importance of taking a firm stance against them,” he said.

The crown prince said bilateral relations “are moving full steam ahead, and that there is a common and strong will to strengthen them for the benefit of our countries and peoples.”

Afterward, Bin Zayed invited Herzog for an unscheduled follow-up personal meeting at his private palace.

At the end of their meeting, Herzog revealed to MBZ that a pediatric medicine conference at the Schneider Medical Center would be named after the Abraham Accords.

President Isaac Herzog meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

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

The president and first lady were given a festive welcome by UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, which included the playing of both countries’ national anthems, and a 21-gun salute. Afterward, they held a working meeting, then had lunch with members of Herzog’s delegation.

During the journey from Israel, 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 is slated to visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and will also meet with Dubai ruler Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak who is Expo 2020 Dubai’s commissioner-general, 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.

“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.”

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

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.

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 that 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 strength against 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 that Houthi attacks would not become a “new normal” for the UAE and pledged a robust defense.

Despite the US warning, the UAE official 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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