US said coordinating secret Iran talks between Israel, Emirates
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US said coordinating secret Iran talks between Israel, Emirates

Washington officials tell WSJ clandestine meetings went further than recent symbolic gestures, aimed to deepen military and diplomatic cooperation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Brian Hook, the US State Department's special representative for Iran, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 15, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Brian Hook, the US State Department's special representative for Iran, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 15, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The United States has been arranging secret talks between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in recent months to discuss the common threat posed by Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

At least two clandestine meetings between Emirati and Israeli officials have taken place so far this year, the report said: one in early 2019 and the other “more recently.” It cited senior White House officials familiar with the matter.

The exact dates and locations of the meetings were not disclosed.

The US officials said the meetings went further than the recent series of symbolic gestures between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi, and were designed to deepen diplomatic, military and intelligence relations between the two countries.

The meetings were attended by the US special envoy for Iran Brian Hook, who heads the Iran Action Group, a State Department policy group tasked with coordinating the administration’s Iran policy in Washington and overseas.

“The Iran Action Group has been working with several countries to coordinate diplomatic, security and intelligence activities in response to Iran’s escalating aggression,“ one American official told the WSJ.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy head of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, in Abu Dhabi on June 24, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP)

“These efforts have helped to preempt and neutralize multiple Iranian threats including terrorist and cyber operations in third countries, planned attacks against international shipping, and illegal trafficking in arms,” the official said.

The official did not say which Iranian operations were thwarted or which third countries were involved.

He said the deepening Israeli-UAE ties were a result of the Trump administration’s policy on the Middle East.

Israel does not have formal diplomatic relations with the UAE, which like most Arab countries, refuses to recognize the Jewish state over its policies toward the Palestinians.

But over the past year, the two countries have demonstrated greater openness to each other, reportedly developing clandestine ties over their shared concerns about Iran.

Last October, Culture Minister Miri Regev visited Abu Dhabi to attend a judo tournament, where Emirati officials not only played the Israeli national anthem, but also took Regev on a tour of the city’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Miri Regev, center, visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi with UAE officials on October 29, 2018. (Courtesy Chen Kedem Maktoubi)

Last month, Foreign Minister Israel Katz made an unannounced visit to Abu Dhabi to attend a UN climate conference and discuss the “the Iranian threat” with his Emirati counterparts.

After Katz’s visit, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told journalists that dialogue with Israel was a “positive” step forward. While he underscored Abu Dhabi’s support for an independent Palestinian state, Gargash said the Arab world’s longtime boycott of the Jewish state was “a very, very wrong decision.”

The report on the secret meetings comes amid other signs of a gradual thaw in ties between Israel and Arab states, such as last month’s US-sponsored conference in Bahrain to roll out the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Though no Israeli officials were invited, a number of Israeli journalists were, and the country’s foreign minister told The Times of Israel that Israel’s existence is a fact, and that Bahrain would like eventual peace with the country.

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