Speaking hours after the first-ever direct Israeli flight to the United Arab Emirates touched down in Abu Dhabi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday evening that the normalization deal between the two countries was the beginning of a “new normal” in the Middle East and would be followed by other regional developments.
Quoting from his own decades-old book in which he predicted that Israel would lead a revolution in the Middle East, allowing it to flower from warm bilateral ties with regional neighbors, Netanyahu repeated his stance that peace does not necessarily require concessions, and said he has worked toward this goal since writing the book.
“We’ve turned Israel into a very strong country,” he said, noting the Jewish state’s economic successes and his own deregulation policies.
Rattling off all his trips to Middle Eastern countries and meetings with regional leaders in recent years, Netanyahu said his policies had allowed Israel to develop relations with countries “we were always told we would never be able to.”
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 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 Iran.
Paving the way for the visit, the president of the UAE on Saturday issued a decree that abolished a 48-year-old law boycotting Israel, thereby allowing trade and financial agreements between the two nations.
“There’s much I still cannot tell you, it will come out eventually,” Netanyahu said Monday regarding Israel’s ties with the Gulf and hinting at a Saudi okay for overflights of planes from Israel.
Thanking the UAE for welcoming the Israeli delegation, led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Netanyahu 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.”
Israel-UAE peace “will be a different peace; this will be a warm peace,” he said, “a peace that will being the two peoples together.”
As the El Al plane landed in Abu Dhabi earlier Monday, Netanyahu spoke with the El Al pilot, Tal Becker: “I am watching you with great excitement — the landing of an Israeli plane in broad daylight in Abu Dhabi. Written on it is ‘Shalom, Saalam, Peace’ — this is the beginning,” Netanyahu said.
“You are about to open the door to a different kind of peace — peace with investments, peace with tourism, many fruits of peace that will be distributed here to both our peoples and to all the peoples of the region,” the prime minister added. “This is a huge historical blessing. This is a historical day,”
Netanyahu said he had worked for years to reach this point in the belief that “the Arab peoples are able to accept Israel’s existence as a fact and as a great partner… I say to all those who are on the other side of the door that is about to open, ‘Saalam Alaikum, Ahalan VeSahalan.’
“You can’t imagine how excited the people of Israel, myself included, are today. We dreamt of this, we worked at it, and behold it is happening before our eyes,” he added.
Following his televised address, Netanyahu, taking questions from the press, defended the possible US sale of F-35 jets to the UAE, again 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 had told him that “the US is absolutely committed to keeping the Israeli military edge. We’ve done this for years, we’ll for sure continue to do this now.”
Also flying on the plane as the head of the US delegation to the visit, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner told reporters as he disembarked that the Emirates’ security relationship with the US was 35 years old and it had proved itself in working together against Iran and the Islamic State.
“The military relationship America has with the UAE is very special, just like the relationship between Israel and America,” Kushner said, insisting that the US can maintain Israel’s military edge while still selling arms to the UAE.