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Israeli Officials Make Groundbreaking Journey to UAE
The Emirati and Israeli flags sway in the wind at the Abu Dhabi airport at the arrival of the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE, on August 31, 2020. (Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli Officials Make Groundbreaking Journey to UAE

‘Historic’ first visit between new allies dominates the day

A delegation of government officials from Jerusalem, flanked by top US diplomats, arrived in the United Arab Emirates Monday for the first official visit by Israelis to the Gulf country, during which they are set to work out bilateral agreements.

Against a backdrop of Israeli, US and Emirati flags, the officials and clerical staff from Jerusalem were greeted with a brief ceremony at the airport and listened to moving welcoming addresses before starting a day of meetings with UAE representatives.

“I believe this agreement has the ability to change the whole course of the Middle East,” senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said, after landing in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital. “The future doesn’t have to be predetermined by the past. To fly over here today was a tremendous honor.”

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash greeted the delegation at the airport. Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, speaking for the Israeli team, thanked his hosts in Arabic and promised “to make the dream a reality.”

During the 24-hour visit, both parties plan to begin cementing a historic normalization agreement that was announced two weeks ago by US President Donald Trump. The directors-general of Israel’s Foreign Affairs, Health, Science and Technology, Economy and Industry, and Immigration and Absorption ministries, among others, will meet with their Emirati counterparts to lay the groundwork for energy, telecommunications and trade pacts.

Dr. Joshua Krasna, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and former head of the Arab world research department for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, told The Media Line: “These talks are a little bit front-loaded. When the original announcement was made by Trump, he said what the issues were going to be.”

“We know what’s on the table, the bilateral issues are not all that unclear. It’s much more straightforward than previous agreements,” he said.

The agreement that is in the works contrasts starkly with the peace deals signed with Egypt and Jordan, said Krasna, who served in the Israeli embassies in Jordan and Canada.

“Those included territorial disputes, border conflicts and a state of war. Also, with the UAE, [Israel] already [has] advanced collaboration, both in the private and government sector,” he added.

Netanyahu sent a video message from his office in Jerusalem Monday, calling the Abu Dhabi occasion a “historic day” and “a huge blessing that will bring peace, the fruits of which will be enjoyed … by all nations in the region.”

Krasna said that he did not believe that Monday was so consequential, aside from the symbolism of the first official flight and visit to the Emirates.

“The controversial issues, the ones that have recently stirred the most interest, probably won’t even be discussed today,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s announcement that he was suspending plans to annex parts of the West Bank and the reports that Israel would not oppose a massive US F-35 fighter-jet deal for the UAE.

“Their shadow is perhaps there [today], but they’re not going to be on the table at all,” he continued. “It has to be handled at the leadership level, when the principals meet and have their own issues to work out.”

Dr. Nachum Shiloh, an expert in Gulf affairs at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, outlined for The Media Line the areas in which Israel and the UAE will cooperate.

They are “hoping to move toward embassy openings, regular flight schedules, the mutual removing of each other from various boycott lists. [There will be] full normalization, so that Israel-UAE relations will be identical to, say, Israel-UK relations,” said Shiloh, the founder of Global OSINT, a firm that provides open-source intelligence collection and analysis for clients.

“Israeli companies dealing in high-tech, green energy, finance – this is a big day for them,” he said, “especially during the current financial crisis and the recession” in Israel.

By Tuesday afternoon, the delegation will be back in Israel, to much fanfare and excitement. Pressing issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, the recession and the rocky start of the new school year, will then reclaim center stage.

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