Abu Dhabi – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince on Monday during the first visit by a leader of the Jewish state to the United Arab Emirates, just over a year after the two countries established ties.
Bennett’s visit comes as Israel pursues a diplomatic push against international nuclear talks in Vienna that could ease sanctions on its arch-foe, Iran.
He was received by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan at his private palace, where they exchanged greetings before heading inside for more than four hours of talks, Israeli officials said.
The Crown Prince hoped Bennett’s visit ‘would contribute to further cooperation for the benefit of the peoples of the two countries and the peoples of the region’, the UAE’s official WAM news agency said.
The visit comes 15 months after the wealthy UAE broke with decades of Arab consensus and forged diplomatic ties under a series of US-brokered deals known as the Abraham Accords.
Bennett, who arrived late on Sunday, said his trip reflected a ‘new reality’ for the Middle East.
Upon arrivial, he was received in Abu Dhabi by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan and an honour guard, according to his office.
The Prime Minister said he appreciated the ‘very warm hospitality’.
“I’m very excited to be here… as the first official visit of an Israeli leader here. We are looking forward to strengthening the relationship.”
“In my opinion, this is… the new reality this region is witnessing, and we are working together to ensure a better future for our children,” he told WAM.
Israel is also stepping up its diplomatic efforts against the renewed talks in Vienna with Iran, over the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.
Bennett has called for the 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.
On Thursday, global powers began meetings with Iran in Vienna aimed at reviving a deal to curb the nuclear programme after former US president Donald Trump pulled out in 2015.
Ahead of those talks, the UAE’s national security advisor met Iran’s ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran, a rare trip by a senior Emirati official.
In Abu Dhabi, Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed discussed cooperation in ‘various investment, economic, trade and development areas’, WAM said.
Bennett also spoke of ‘limitless future opportunities’ to develop trade with the UAE.
“Israel, like the UAE, is a regional hub for trade. Our cooperation provides unprecedented economic opportunities not only for us, but for more countries,” he was quoted as saying.
The UAE last year became the third Arab nation to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel after Egypt and Jordan, and was swiftly followed by Bahrain and Morocco.
Sudan also agreed to normalise ties with Israel under the 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.