UAE ambassador to US shares table with Israel’s US envoy at pro-Israel event
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UAE ambassador to US shares table with Israel’s US envoy at pro-Israel event

In show of strengthening ties between the two countries, Emirates’s Yousef al-Otaiba joins Ron Dermer at public Washington dinner

Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba gestures during an event with US House Speaker Paul Ryan, at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba gestures during an event with US House Speaker Paul Ryan, at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

In a sign of closer ties between Jerusalem and its Arab neighbors, the ambassador to the US of the United Arab Emirates shared a table with Israel’s ambassador at a public pro-Israel event in Washington, DC, on Wednesday evening.

Israel’s envoy Ron Dermer was spotted by a reporter for the Haaretz daily sitting with Emirates Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba. They were attending a dinner for the pro-Israel Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the guest speaker.

Israel and the UAE do not have official diplomatic ties, but the dinner diplomacy sheds light on one of the worst-kept secrets in the Arab world: the quiet links between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors that are increasingly coming out into the open as they find common cause against mutual foe Iran.

The fact that the two envoys sat together publicly, knowing the event was being covered by journalists, appears to show that the two countries are increasingly prepared to acknowledge the growing connections between them.

UAE ambassador in Washington Yousef al-Otaiba. (UAE embassy website)

This is not the first time Otaiba has publicly interacted with an Israeli official.

In May the Emirati ambassador was dining in Washington with Bahrain’s ambassador, Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa; Brian Hook, the State Department’s policy planning chief; and a group of US journalists.

By chance Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara were at the same restaurant at the time. Word was sent to Netanyahu’s table inviting him to stop by and chat with the ambassadors, which he and his wife did as they were leaving the venue.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, DC, June 9, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

They lingered, answering a few questions from the group about Iran and other issues. There were smiles, a few laughs about the oddity of the situation, and Netanyahu shook hands with the two ambassadors before leaving the restaurant.

Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, said of Netanyahu’s encounter at the time that it was “important in beginning a process of preparing Arab publics to share the Arab leadership’s view that Israel is a strategic partner. But there is a danger in irrational exuberance. This is a very fragile process.”

Driving the shift — until recently unimaginable in the Arab world — is a growing alignment between Israel and the Sunni Arab nations against Iran, a Shiite-led nation that Israel considers an existential threat. Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region, including the UAE, share a view that Iran now presents more of a threat to the region than Israel, whose thriving economy and prosperous tech sector have become attractive models for other Middle East nations to try to replicate.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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