Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to the United Arab Emirates in 2018 for a secret meeting with the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Tuesday.
According to the report, the meeting was also attended by Mossad head Yossi Cohen, who facilitated the visit.
Diplomatic sources told the newspaper that the meeting was held in a “good atmosphere” and that there was a follow-up meeting a year later in Washington attended by Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and representatives of the US and UAE governments.
According to the report, Israel’s then-ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, was heavily involved in the negotiations that ultimately led to the normalization deal with the UAE.
The Israel Hayom newspaper also alluded last month to secret visits by Netanyahu to the UAE.
The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on the Yedioth Ahronoth report, which came hours after Netanyahu on Monday hinted that he had held meetings with Arab leaders that had not been made public.
“I meet with many, many leaders in the Arab and Muslim world. Much more than you think,” Netanyahu said, in celebrating the departure of an official Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi to discuss normalization. “There’s much I still cannot tell you, but I believe it will come out eventually.”
In 2018, Netanyahu made a surprise visit to the Gulf nation of Oman — the first by an Israeli leader in over two decades. Cohen and Ben-Shabbat also accompanied the prime minister on that trip.
Oman is among a handful of Middle Eastern states, including Bahrain, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, that Israel and the US hope could follow the UAE in forging diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Oman expressed its support for the Israel-UAE normalization deal the day after it was announced on August 13.
Speaking hours after the first-ever direct Israeli flight to the United Arab Emirates touched down in Abu Dhabi carrying the Israeli delegation, Netanyahu said Monday evening that the normalization deal with the UAE was the beginning of a “new normal” in the Middle East and would be followed by other regional developments.
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.