Hours after the first-ever direct Israeli flight to the United Arab Emirates touched down in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Israeli officials were playing up the normalization deal between the two countries and touting a range of cooperative projects set to be rolled out in the coming days and weeks.
The Foreign Ministry said Monday evening that talks were already underway for the UAE and Israel to open embassies on each other’s soil.
“The sides discussed the possibility of mutual opening of embassies and signing bilateral agreements to advance ties between the countries,” a Foreign Ministry statement read.
The American ambassador to the UAE is also involved in the talks, the ministry said.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a late Monday statement that the high-level talks were underway at the palace of the UAE’s national security adviser, Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The Israeli delegation was led by his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat and included Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz.
The UAE delegation included Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The US team included presidential adviser Jared Kushner, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, White House special representative Avi Berkowitz, the White House’s outgoing Iran pointman Brian Hook and US ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta Jr.
“We are at the start of a historic process and we intend to advance as quickly as possible the establishment of full ties and opening embassies in both countries, which will act to bolster cooperation between Israel and the UAE,” said Ushpiz.
Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
The UAE is just the third Arab country to agree to establish full official relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Arab countries will soon follow suit, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests, and shared enmity toward the Iranian regime.
National Security Adviser Ben-Shabbat said that regular commercial flights to the Emirates could be available to Israelis within weeks.
“We have come to make a vision a reality, we want to collaborate in a variety of areas,” he said in an Arabic address after landing in Abu Dhabi.
Following Monday’s historic visit, cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman told Army Radio that a security delegation will head to the UAE within two or three weeks.
The comment may hint at a possible resolution of a dispute between Israel, the US and the UAE over Washington’s proposed sale of F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi.
According to reports, a security delegation that was supposed to be part of Monday’s flight was pushed off due to the ongoing dispute.
The US has pledged to maintain an Israeli qualitative military edge over any other country in the region, meaning the UAE would not have the same class of fighter jet as Israel.
But presidential adviser Jared Kushner seemed to indicate to the press from Abu Dhabi earlier that selling the jets to the UAE would not necessarily lessen Israel’s military edge.
Speaking in a televised address from Jerusalem after the El Al plane landed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the possible US sale of F-35 jets to the UAE, repeating his claim that Israel did not know of the sale prior to the announcement of the deal.
Netanyahu insisted that US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, part of the US delegation to the UAE, had told him that “the US is absolutely committed to preserving Israel’s military edge. We’ve done this for years, we’ll for sure continue to do this now.”
Thanking the UAE for welcoming the Israeli delegation, Netanyahu also announced that a delegation from the UAE had been invited to visit Israel.
“We’ll give them the same red carpet [greeting] they gave us,” he said, without saying whether Abu Dhabi had accepted the offer, but adding, “I’ve asked the delegation to work as fast as possible to nail down the peace deal with the UAE.”