Israeli energy minister said to make secret visit to Abu Dhabi

Yuval Steinitz holds talks on Iran, threat of Islamic State during rare trip, TV report says

Abu Dhabi. (Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0/Ralf Roletschek)
Abu Dhabi. (Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0/Ralf Roletschek)

Israel’s energy minister returned Monday from a visit to Abu Dhabi, where he met with several officials to discuss shared concerns over Iran, the Islamic State and other matters, a TV report said.

The Likud party’s Yuval Steinitz, who until recently also served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s point man on matters relating to Iran’s nuclear program, made the trip under “heavy security,” Channel 2 reported, and his office declined to confirm that it had taken place.

The report noted that Israel, the Gulf principalities and other Sunni Arab states have several “shared concerns.” It added that the trip took place just as the international community began implementing the nuclear deal with Iran, marked by a lifting of economic sanctions.

Coincidentally or otherwise, an energy conference was taking place in Abu Dhabi, with Iranian representation, as Steinitz visited. There was no report of any contact between Steinitz and Iranian officials. The Iranian leadership constantly refers to hopes for the demise of Israel, and acknowledges arming and funding terror groups such as Hezbollah that seek to destroy the Jewish state.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during a Knesset plenum session on September 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during a Knesset plenum session on September 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In November, it was reported that Israel was opening an office in Abu Dhabi to facilitate its work there with the UN’s International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Israeli diplomat Rami Hatan was said to be preparing to leave for Abu Dhabi to head the office. An Israeli official described the move as a “diplomatic breakthrough.”

In January 2009, Israel had cast its vote for Abu Dhabi as the site of IRENA’s headquarters (over rival contender Germany) with the explicit condition that IRENA’s presence in the Gulf state would allow Israel to open an official, publicly acknowledged diplomatic office there.

Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold in Jerusalem, June 1, 2015. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Still, a senior United Arab Emirates official said Israel’s new office in Abu Dhabi did not signify any change in her government’s attitude toward the Jewish state. Maryam Al Falasi, director of communications at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement saying that “any agreement between [the International Renewable Energy Association] and Israel does not represent any change in the position of the UAE or its relations with Israel.”

Dore Gold, the Foreign Ministry director general, was in Abu Dhabi in November for IRENA’s 10th annual meeting.

Israel has no official diplomatic relations with any of the Gulf states.

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