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Israeli PM Naftali Bennett heads to UAE for historic visit

12 Dec 2021 Israeli PM heads to UAE for historic visit By AFP

Jerusalem – Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took off for the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for the first official visit by a prime minister of the Jewish state, after they established diplomatic ties last year.

The trip announced by Bennett’s office comes with Israel making a renewed diplomatic push against resumed international talks with its arch foe Iran over the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme. 

Bennett on Monday meets Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan to discuss ‘deepening the ties between Israel and the UAE, especially economic and regional issues’, the Prime Minister’s office said. 

There was no immediate comment from the UAE on the visit. 

Just before 4:30pm (1430 GMT), Bennett’s office announced his plane had taken off from Ben Gurion Airport in central Israel on what the premier called a ‘historic’ visit and ‘first of its kind’.

“The visit is aimed at deepening the cooperation between

the countries, in all fields,” Bennett said before boarding the plane. 

“The relations are excellent and extensive, and we must continue to nurture and strengthen them, and build the warm peace between the people,” he said in a video issued by his office.

The UAE last year became the third Arab nation to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel after Egypt and Jordan. 

Bahrain and Morocco then followed as part of a series of deals brokered by then US president Donald Trump. Sudan also agreed to normalise ties with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords, but full relations have not yet materialised. 

The agreements were negotiated by Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who said they would offer Israel new regional allies against Iran and bolster its diplomatic efforts to stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Iran and world powers have resumed negotiations on the frayed 2015 nuclear deal that offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is civilian in nature. 

Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018 and stepped up sanctions against Iran.

Talks in Vienna now aim to bring the United States back into the deal and return Iran to full compliance with its commitments.

Bennett has called for the Vienna talks to be halted, accusing Tehran of ‘nuclear blackmail’ and charging that it will use any revenue from sanctions relief to bolster a military arsenal that can harm Israel. 

UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed al Nahyan earlier this month visited Tehran, where he met Iran’s ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi. 

The trip was the first of its kind since relations between the two countries were downgraded in 2016.

Bennett’s Abu Dhabi visit comes on the heels of a trip to Washington by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who has repeatedly stressed that military options must be ready if negotiations with Iran collapse. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was also in London and Paris last month, where he called for tighter sanctions against Tehran. 

Since the Abraham Accords were signed, Israel and the

UAE have inked a series of deals on economic and trade cooperation.

In November, Israeli weapons maker Elbit Systems launched a new venture in the UAE, after Emirati and Israeli air force commanders visited each other’s nations.

The Abraham Accords were strongly condemned by the Palestinians as they broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognising Israel until it signs a peace establishing a Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem. 

While Bennett is the first Israel Prime Minister to visit the UAE, Lapid made a landmark visit there in June, opening an embassy in Abu Dhabi and a consulate in Dubai, while the UAE established an embassy in Tel Aviv.

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