Senior officials from the United Arab Emirates and Israel traveled together on a private jet from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, flying over Saudi airspace to Ben Gurion airport late last week, according to a report Thursday by the Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej Online (Arabic).
The plane was transporting Israeli officials back to Tel Aviv after a secret visit to Abu Dhabi to prepare for a supposed “surprise visit” by UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Israel, the report said, citing high-level Emirati sources. The trip is set to reportedly precede a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the UAE.
According to the report, the Emirati foreign minister and the head of UAE intelligence Tahnoun bin Zayed were aboard the flight to Tel Aviv.
The report further noted that Riyadh gave Abu Dhabi the “green light” for the flight, which journeyed directly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv over Saudi Arabia, without stopping in Amman, Jordan as is usually the case. Jordan and Israel have a peace treaty and run direct flights between Amman and Tel Aviv.
The UAE and Israel do not have official diplomatic ties.
The Al Khaleej report cited Ynet reporter Itay Blumenthal who tweeted a photo of the flight’s path and wrote: “A very interesting flight from the Gulf: A private jet (9H-VCL) arrives directly from Abu #Dhabi.”
A very interesting flight from the Gulf: A private jet (9H-VCL) arrives directly from Abu #Dhabi ???????? to #Israel ???????? (without stopping in Amman trick). @Obs_IL @avischarf #potn @Gerjon_ @ynetalerts pic.twitter.com/Os6EX2rNfj
— איתי בלומנטל (@ItayBlumental) January 16, 2019
Netanyahu has for several years been working on rapprochement in regional Sunni Arab states to serve as a bulwark against arch-enemy Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
Over the years, there have been numerous reports of covert ties and secret meetings between senior Israeli officials and those of Arab states with whom Israel does not have official ties.
But in October 2018, a more direct sign of warming relations emerged after Netanyahu paid an official state visit to Oman to meet with Sultan Qaboos bin Said. It was the first visit by an Israeli leader in over two decades. The previous trip by an Israeli leader to Oman took place in 1996, when Shimon Peres visited.
That same month, Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev paid a state visit to the UAE to watch the Israeli delegation compete at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, which it did for the first time ever in an Arabian Gulf state under its national flag, after the UAE succumbed to pressure from international sports officials.
Her trip marked the first time a minister from Israel attended a sports event in the Gulf.
As part of the trip, Regev visited Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque accompanied by officials from the UAE, touring the Muslim world’s third largest house of worship, after mosques in Mecca and Medina.
In another historic, dramatic first, Israel’s national anthem was played at the judo tournament where judoka Sagi Muki won a gold medal.
Regev was visibly moved as she hung the gold medallion around Muki’s neck and burst into tears as the anthem played.
Netanyahu is also said to be working toward normalizing relations with other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.