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Netanyahu said to have blocked Ashkenazi trip to open Israeli missions in UAE

Report says PM, who was forced to cancel his own trip to Abu Dhabi last week, does not want foreign minister to visit before he does

Minister Of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi  at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Minister Of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has intervened to prevent Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi from traveling to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to inaugurate Israel’s new missions in the Gulf country, Channel 12 reported Sunday.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry said Netanyahu blocked the visit because “he didn’t want the foreign minister to travel there before he does.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly been forced to cancel his plans to travel to the United Arab Emirates for his first official visit, most recently last week, since the two nations announced last year they were establishing diplomatic ties.

Channel 12 said other sources had confirmed the intervention.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony in Tel-Hai, northern Israel, February 23, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“Due to personal and election considerations, Netanyahu is torpedoing an important diplomatic journey and delaying the opening of the Israeli missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” an unnamed official told the outlet.

Ashkenazi, from the rival Blue and White party, had also been expected to hold talks on having the UAE accept Israel’s “Green Pass” to allow vaccinated and recovered Israeli tourists to visit the Gulf nation without restrictions.

Ashkenazi was due to continue to Moscow after his trip to the Gulf, and that could still go ahead, the report said.

Netanyahu’s most recent effort to visit the UAE last week came undone amid a spat with Jordan.

Netanyahu was slated to make his first official visit to the UAE, and had hoped to use the audience with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed to boost his reelection campaign ahead of the March 23 Knesset elections.

Reports had also suggested he may have also been hoping to meet Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and/or Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during the trip.

Eitan Na’eh, Israel’s first ambassador to the UAE, after arriving there on January 24, 2021. (Foreign Ministry, courtesy)

The Prime Minister’s Office said it had difficulties coordinating the flight to the UAE over Jordanian airspace after Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein canceled a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a sensitive holy site under Jordanian custodianship, due to disagreements over security arrangements.

Rather than taking an Israeli jet, Netanyahu had arranged for an Emirati plane to shuttle him to the UAE — apparently due to security reasons. That airliner had been docking at Jordan’s airport in Amman on Thursday, waiting for a go-ahead from local authorities before taking off to Israel to pick up Netanyahu. Jordan held up the approval for several hours before eventually giving a green light later on Thursday. However, by the time Netanyahu was cleared to fly, it was already too late and the PMO decided to cancel the trip, due to time constraints.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with the UAE’s new ambassador to Israel Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah at his Jerusalem office on March 2, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu then reportedly ordered the closing of Israeli airspace to flights heading to and from Jordan in retaliation for Amman’s delaying of the plane; he retracted the directive before it came into effect.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi confirmed on Friday that Jordan held up granting Netanyahu overflight permission in retaliation for the prince’s canceled visit to Jerusalem. Safadi accused Israel of violating an agreement on the arrangements for the visit, while Israel has said Hussein arrived with heavier security than promised.

On Saturday, Netanyahu insisted that relations between the two countries were positive, saying that “Jordan needs good relations with us no less than we need good relations with Jordan.”

Netanyahu said Saturday that he was also deterred from flying to the UAE through Saudi airspace because of the threat of missile fire from Iranian proxies in Yemen.

The diplomatic spat underscored Jordanian frustrations with Netanyahu and tensions between the two neighbors that have simmered for years.

The trip to the UAE been planned for several months, but postponed on numerous occasions, most recently in February. Netanyahu had originally been set to make the trip in November, then December, and then in January and February, but the pandemic, scheduling issues, and internal political crises led to repeated delays.

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