As Israel’s Foreign Minister visits the UAE, progress on shared interests is highlighted

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When Yair Lapid landed in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, he made history as the first Israeli minister to visit the country.

After arriving in the UAE on Tuesday to open Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai, Yair Lapid became the first Israeli minister to visit the country in history.

Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirati equivalent to Israel’s freshly installed foreign minister, will host him. Over the course of the two-day visit, the two countries’ top diplomats are slated to address a variety of bilateral topics, including economic cooperation, trade, and security.

“The inauguration is a symbolic act,” Lior Haiat, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, told Al Jazeera. “For the past four and a half months, the embassy and consulate have been operational.”

Under the leadership of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose 12-year reign ended earlier this month, Israel normalized relations with the UAE and Bahrain in August.

The agreements, called the Abraham Accords, were heralded as a personal victory by Netanyahu, who waged an unsuccessful re-election campaign based in part on the assumption that he was the candidate who could improve Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors while ensuring domestic security.

According to Al Jazeera, the visit demonstrates the new Israeli government’s high priority for its Gulf partners, and it “turns the Emirati relationship into an institutional policy of the Israeli state, rather than a party policy,” according to Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

It also comes as Israel has expressed severe misgivings about US-Tehran efforts to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal, as well as in the aftermath of the Gaza war, which failed to derail the embryonic UAE-Israeli alliance or the discreet moves being made to enhance commercial and security ties.

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When the Abraham Accords were signed last year, the national flags of the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain were projected on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. [File: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Doubling down

When Israel bombed the Gaza Strip for 11 days in May, killing at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, and Hamas fired thousands of missiles into Israel, killing 13, the bilateral relationship between Israel and the UAE was put to the test.

While the UAE condemned Israel for forcibly evicting Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem and invading the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, it remained silent on Israel’s attack on Gaza.

From Israel’s standpoint, the conflict demonstrated the resilience of normalization, according to Haiat. “It had no impact on the relationship between Israel and the countries that signed the Abraham Accords,” he stated.

Nonetheless, the outrage expressed in Arab countries over Israel’s conduct in Gaza serves as a reminder of how widely the official Emirati viewpoint differs from that of the ordinary populace.

“Jerusalem and Palestine are still unifying symbols for Arabs at a time when there are no alternative motifs,” Bader al-Saif, a nonresident fellow at the Malcolm H Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, told Al Jazeera.

“If citizens in each of the nations that normalized ties were left to their own devices, none of this would have happened,” he added. “An illegal occupation still exists.”

The UAE, on the other hand, has established itself as a regional outlier. And, according to observers, bringing its ties with Israel out into the open after decades of covert security cooperation strengthens its trailblazing credentials.

“It’s just easier to cooperate economically and in terms of security if it’s out in the open, and the UAE is in a position to accomplish that,” al-Saif added.

 

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In Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, a woman paints the Palestinian national flag on the face of a toddler amid the wreckage of buildings damaged by Israel’s shelling of the Gaza Strip last month [File: Said Khatib/AFP]

New deals

When Israel bombed the Gaza Strip for 11 days in May, killing at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, and Hamas fired thousands of missiles into Israel, killing 13, the bilateral relationship between Israel and the UAE was put to the test.

While the UAE condemned Israel for forcibly evicting Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem and invading the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, it remained silent on Israel’s attack on Gaza.

From Israel’s standpoint, the conflict demonstrated the resilience of normalization, according to Haiat. “It had no impact on the relationship between Israel and the countries that signed the Abraham Accords,” he stated.

“They are not rushing into anything,” he said, emphasizing that Emirati businessmen are cautious. They want to have a true bond.”

Abu Dhabi’s state-owned investment vehicle Mubadala has declared its intention to buy a $1.1 billion share in Israel’s Tamar gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The UAE’s intention to work with Israeli enterprises and carry out cooperative projects, especially in sectors where both Middle Eastern states have overlapping interests, was a fundamental aspect of the Abraham Accords.

In March, Israel Aerospace Industries and UAE state-owned defense contractor Edge inked a memorandum of understanding to co-produce anti-drone equipment.

The accord comes as drone warfare becomes a more formidable force on battlefields across the Middle East.

Turkey, which has strained relations with both the United Arab Emirates and Israel, is promoting itself as a niche supplier of military drones, demonstrating their effectiveness in wars ranging from Libya to Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh.

According to Al-Saif, the UAE is keeping a close eye on the development of drone warfare.

In September 2019, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for an attack on Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Yemen, which briefly halted production and exports.

Saudi Arabia, a strong ally of the UAE, has been the subject of multiple Houthi rebel drone assaults since then.

“If the UAE experienced what the Saudis did, they would never be able to sustain their tourism sector or events like the Dubai Expo,” al-Saif added.

Ongoing relationship

Abu Dhabi’s new capacity to purchase F-35 combat fighters from the United States is one of the benefits of normalization. Israel dropped its opposition to the armaments procurement after the Abraham Accords.

While public announcements of defense deals between the two nations are now possible, it was long known that the UAE and Israel have a long-standing relationship centered on the industry. But, according to Sachs, the needle isn’t moving much.

“Perhaps there may be chances for medium-sized and small businesses who were previously unable to enter the market,” he said, “but I don’t believe the Abraham Accords will have such a significant impact on the defense industry.”

Caution
In September 2019, Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for an attack on Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Yemen, disrupting oil production and exports for a short time. [AP Photo/Amr Nabil]

Iran

Lapid’s first priority will almost certainly remain security.

His travel to the UAE this week coincides with efforts by US President Joe Biden’s administration to resurrect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and international powers.

Following Netanyahu’s courting of former US President Donald Trump, Lapid expressed his desire to mend strained ties between Israel and the Democratic Party in the United States.

He met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome on Sunday, promising to discreetly inform Washington of any Israeli concerns to a new Iran accord.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates were both against the JCPOA when it was signed, and they supported the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement in 2018. The Abraham Accords were pushed forward in large part because of this alignment.

Yanarocak said Israel will want to engage with its new Gulf partner to jointly lobby the US over worries about Iran’s missile development and backing for regional proxies, even if it is not in the public eye.

“Israel needs to unite behind the Abraham Accords in order to exert pressure and leverage on the US government over the conditions of a potential Iran deal,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera

 

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