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Israeli prime minister makes historic UAE visit, stressing ‘new reality’ for region


Naftali Bennett, Israeli Prime Minster (L), received in Abu Dhabi by Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, United Arab Emirates (R), on December 12, 20,21.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett touched down in the United Arab Emirates Monday in a historic visit, marking the first time an Israeli leader has publicly met the UAE’s de-facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Bennett took this opportunity to stress what he witnessed and indeed what regional analysts call a new reality in the Middle East. “In my opinion this is what peace and the new realities this region are witnessing. And we’re working together to ensure better futures for our children,” Bennett told UAE state news agency WAM.

Bennett’s office later announced Monday that Mohammed bin Zayed had accepted an Israeli leader’s invitation for a visit to Israel. The date of that visit has not yet been established.

In August 2020 the UAE and Israel signed landmark Abraham Accords. This was brokered through the Trump administration. It marked the first ever normalization in ties between Israel, an Arab Gulf nation and Israel. Later, Morocco, Sudan, and Bahrain signed their normalization agreements with Israel.

Although there has been some criticism of Israel from Arab countries, Israel and UAE continue to trade and partner in tourism, transportation, technology, and other areas of commerce. In just a few months, Israeli tourists began to flood into UAE’s beaches, malls, and restaurants. Dubai held open-air Hannukah ceremonies in December. This was something unimaginable only two years earlier.

An Israeli tourist wearing a mask in Dubai’s al-Fahidi district on January 11, 2021. Dubai, despite the rise in coronavirus cases, is still open for tourists, despite having seen much of the globe tighten their lockdowns.

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Bennett spoke of the agreement saying, “The relations among the two countries has strengthened in every field, and that I am very satisfied with that. As many cooperation agreements were completed in the areas of trade and research and development, cyber security and education and other, I look forward the continuing development and consolidation.

Both countries will benefit from the strengthening of their UAE-Israel bonds when it comes defense strategy against Iran. Taufiq Rahim (Dubai-based senior fellow, international security program, New America thinktank), said that Bennett is still benefiting from this week’s meeting. 

This visit has been one year in preparation and is in many ways overdue. Already, the relationship has improved significantly between these two countries. For PM Bennett, this meeting in Israel will have a greater impact than any strategic shifts in the region.

Iran has risen in importance