Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has made an historic state visit to the United Arab Emirates, seeking to boost cooperation with a new Persian Gulf ally amid rising tensions with Iran.
Bennett is scheduled to meet with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Monday – the first such engagement by an Israeli PM in the UAE. It marks the next step in a relationship that was normalized last year through an ‘Abraham Accords’ deal brokered by then-US President Donald Trump.
“We’re going to be discussing ways to further our cooperation in a number of fields, especially strengthening our economic and commercial ties,” Bennett told reporters just before boarding a plane on Sunday. “In just one year since normalizing our relationship, we’ve already seen the extraordinary potential of the Israel-UAE partnership, and this is just the beginning.”
Left unmentioned was perhaps the biggest shared concern of the new allies: Iran. Israel has lobbied to help rein in Iran’s nuclear program and has reportedly sought to work jointly on missile defense with Gulf Arab states that share its concerns about Tehran.
Bennett’s trip – his first to any of the four predominantly Muslim countries that were party to the Abraham Accords – comes just a week after the UAE’s national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, traveled to Tehran for meetings with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and security chief Ali Shamkhani. The rare visit was reportedly made to ease tensions with Iran, which the UAE views as its top regional security threat.
The Israel-UAE talks also come as Bennett’s government nears a decision on whether to approve a deal that would enable Gulf oil to be offloaded in the Red Sea port of Eilat. The arrangement would allow the UAE to essentially use Israel as a land bridge for crude exports to Europe, as the oil would be piped to the Mediterranean coast for loading onto Europe-bound tankers.
Israeli and UAE defense contractors agreed last month to jointly develop unmanned vessels for applications such as anti-submarine warfare. Also last month, Israel’s navy took part in joint maritime drills with the UAE and Bahrain – an historic collaboration that Israeli media portrayed as sending a warning message to Iran.