A senior official from the United Arab Emirates visited Israel in August to discuss trade relations between the two countries, according to an unconfirmed Arab-language report this week.
An anonymous source told Arabi21 that Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, CEO of the government-owned port operator DP World, visited Tel Aviv to promote relations between the company and Israel.
According to a translation by Middle East Eye, the meetings were arranged by Michael Vaknin, chief economist at JP Morgan investment bank, and one of the people who attended was the Israeli head of customs.
DP World reportedly already has strong ties with Israeli shipping company Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. and other Israeli companies.
Israel in 1996 officially opened “trade offices” in Oman and Qatar (which have since closed), but the Jewish state has never had formal ties with the Emirates.
A June exposé in the New Yorker magazine revealed what it indicated was a deep and longstanding Israeli relationship with the UAE, and particularly with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, which started when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister in the mid-1990s.
A May report described an impromptu bit of dinner diplomacy between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a prominent Emirati ambassador.
Netanyahu was in Washington for an annual pro-Israel policy conference and was dining at the same restaurant as the Emirati ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, who was hosting Bahrain’s ambassador, Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa and several journalists. Otaiba invited Netanyahu to stop by his table, and the prime minister chatted with the diners, and answered questions about Iran and other issues.
“It’s become an open secret, even not a secret at all, demonstrated in public ways that are taboo-breaking and important in beginning a process of preparing the Arab publics to share the Arab leadership’s view that Israel is a strategic partner,” said Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel. “But there is a danger in irrational exuberance. This is a very fragile process.”
Netanyahu frequently boasts of growing, discreet cooperation with moderate Arab countries. Though he doesn’t identify them by name, they’ve long been believed to be Sunni Gulf countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Associated Press contributed to this report.