Netanyahu’s UAE visit said postponed after Abu Dhabi slams Temple Mount visit

Sources deny connection to Ben Gvir’s visit to flashpoint site, blame logistical issues for delay of Netanyahu’s first official visit to the Gulf state

File: 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)
File: 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)

A visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United Arab Emirates slated for next week has been postponed until February, Hebrew media reported Tuesday.

Reports of the postponement came shortly after the Gulf state condemned Israel over a Tuesday morning visit by new National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to the Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem.

Associates of Netanyahu denied any connection between the incidents, however, saying the visit had been postponed due to logistical considerations, according to the Ynet news site.

Netanyahu’s planned visit to Abu Dhabi, which his office confirmed on Monday, would be his first official visit to the Gulf state. In the years leading to the 2020 Abraham Accords, Netanyahu held several covert visits to the UAE as premier, but never a public one.

Netanyahu had tried to arrange a visit to Abu Dhabi in early 2021, but the visit was postponed several times and eventually canceled due to Jordan delaying the approval of his flight path over the Hashemite kingdom and proximity to Israeli elections.

In a recent interview with US journalist Bari Weiss for her “Common Sense” podcast, Netanyahu said his first official visit as premier after returning to power would be to the UAE.

Then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Tel Aviv on September 16, 2022. (Benjamin Netanyahu/Twitter)

In a statement issued on Tuesday, hours after Ben Gvir visited the flashpoint Temple Mount site, the UAE denounced his “storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard” and called for an end to “serious and provocative violations.”

The visit was also condemned by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey, drew calls for calm and for protecting the sensitive status quo from the United States, France, and the European Union, and was met with threats by the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist group.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023 (Courtesy Minhelet Har Habayit)

Despite some signs pointing to weakness in the Abraham Accords — such as the lack of Emirati and Bahraini tourists in Israel over the past two years — the official ties between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi seem to be strong.

On Saturday, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan called Netanyahu to congratulate him after the swearing-in of the government on Thursday.

President Isaac Herzog meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Separately, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan called to congratulate his newly inaugurated Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, according to a Reuters report.

There had been concerns that ties between Israel and the Gulf nation could be impacted by the election of Netanyahu’s hardline government.

Before last year’s election, the UAE warned Netanyahu against including far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in his government, a senior official familiar with the matter has previously told The Times of Israel.

However, Abu Dhabi has apparently changed its tune since the right-wing, religious bloc won a majority in the November 1 vote.

Last month, UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja met with the leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party Bezalel Smotrich, and was photographed warmly greeting Ben Gvir.

Smotrich has long advocated for massively expanding settlements and for annexing large parts of the West Bank without granting equal rights to Palestinians in those areas.

The UAE jumpstarted the Abraham Accords in return for a promise by Netanyahu’s then-government not to move ahead with the planned annexation of swaths of the West Bank.

Tobias Siegal and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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