Israel officially opens embassy in United Arab Emirates with arrival of envoy

Ambassador Eitan Na’eh takes up post in Abu Dhabi, as Emirati cabinet approves opening of mission in Tel Aviv; cabinet approves normalization with Morocco

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Eitan Na'eh, the head of Israel's mission to the UAE, in Abu Dhabi on January 24, 2021. (Foreign Ministry/courtesy)
Eitan Na'eh, the head of Israel's mission to the UAE, in Abu Dhabi on January 24, 2021. (Foreign Ministry/courtesy)

Israel officially opened its embassy to the United Arab Emirates in the United Arab Emirates Sunday, as Ambassador Eitan Na’eh arrived in Abu Dhabi.

The development came on the same day that the UAE approved the opening of its embassy in Tel Aviv.

“The embassy will work to advance Israel’s interests and will be at the disposal of its citizens,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It will work from a temporary office, which will begin operations in the coming days, until a permanent location can be found, the ministry said.

Na’eh, the former ambassador to Turkey, is the first Israeli to have full diplomatic status in the Gulf state, following the normalization of ties with Israel last year.

He will head the temporary mission for several months, until an ambassador is appointed, according to a report earlier this month from the Kan public broadcaster.

Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, and Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, stand in front of Villa Borsig, in Berlin, Germany, October 6, 2020. (Hannibal Hanschke/ Pool via AP)

Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain signed the US-brokered Abraham Accords normalization agreement at the White House on September 15, 2020.

The opening of the embassy will allow for the bilateral relations between the countries to expand further, said Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Ashkenazi also praised the UAE decision to open its own embassy.

“This is an important decision that will advance the warm ties between countries and between nations,” he said. “We look forward to welcoming the UAE representatives soon.”

The European Union Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret congratulated Na’eh on taking up his post.

Israel is also expected to open a consulate in Dubai and a liaison office in Rabat, Morocco, in the coming days, according to the Foreign Ministry. It already has an operating embassy in Manama, the capital of Bahrain.

On Sunday, the government approved the normalization of ties with Morocco, reached last year and also brokered by the US.

The agreement will be handed to the Knesset for approval.

An Israeli man walks past Emirati staff after passport control upon arrival from Tel Aviv to the Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates, on November 26, 2020. (Karim Sahib/AFP)

Although the exchange of embassies has progressed, a visa waiver agreement between Israel and the UAE has been held up due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the UAE said it was pushing off implementing the agreement until July.

The development came hours after Israel began requiring all of its citizens returning to the country from the UAE to quarantine for two weeks in government-run hotels due to high infection rates in the Gulf state.

The UAE had ratified the visa waiver agreement earlier this month and it was set to go into effect in mid-February. Israel’s cabinet approved its side of the deal, waiving visas for Emirati citizens, in late November. The UAE launched tourist visas for Israeli citizens last month as a stopgap measure until it ratified the exemption agreement.

Israeli travelers continue to use the tourist visas in the meantime.

Health officials have long complained that lax treatment of UAE arrivals was contributing to new infections, but politicians reportedly feared angering Emirati officials by applying new restrictions so soon after the two countries normalized their ties.

In addition to the two Gulf states and Morocco, Israel has recently also reached normalization agreements with Sudan.

Na’eh served as envoy to Turkey from 2016 to 2018, until he was expelled by Ankara in protest of the deaths of dozens of Palestinians in violent clashes with Israeli forces on the border with the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Turkey have not exchanged ambassadors since the falling-out in May 2018.

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