Israel’s new foreign minister was in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, kicking off the highest-level visit by an Israeli official to the Gulf Arab state since the two countries formally established relations nine months ago.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to meet the UAE’s foreign minister in Abu Dhabi, with talks likely to focus in part on Iran, which both countries view as a top regional threat.
Soon after his arrival in the UAE, Lapid told diplomats gathered at the inauguration of the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi that the moment represented “the right to determine our fate by ourselves.” Israel, he said, isn’t going anywhere.
“The Middle East is our home. We’re here to stay. We call on all the countries of the region to recognize that. And to come talk to us,” he said, according to the speech released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Press access to Lapid’s various events in the UAE has been strictly limited to Emirati media or select Israeli outlets traveling with the minister.
The Trump administration brokered the so-called “Abraham Accords” agreement that established ties between the UAE and Israel. It was hailed at the time by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump as among their greatest achievements.
Lapid’s visit to the UAE was one that Netanyahu had hoped to make himself before his 12-year-run at the helm ended earlier this month. He’d repeatedly tried to score a lightning trip to Abu Dhabi to capitalize on the normalization deal his government signed and boost his re-election campaign.
In acknowledgement of Netanyahu, Lapid told diplomats gathered at the Israeli Embassy event that the former prime minister is “the architect of the Abraham Accords” and that “this moment is his, no less than it is ours.”
Underpinning UAE-Israel ties is shared concern that Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers did not go far enough to curb Tehran’s reach in the region. The reservations by both countries about the deal helped propel quiet ties, long before they formally announced full diplomatic relations last year.
President Joe Biden, however, is pushing to revive and expand the nuclear accord, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2018. Earlier this week, Lapid was quoted as saying that Israel has serious reservations about the nuclear deal being discussed in Vienna, but pledged Israel would make its objections privately.
In the few months since establishing ties, the UAE and Israel have rapidly expanded bilateral trade to several hundred million dollars. More than 200,000 Israeli tourists have traveled to the UAE, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has said. Many of those visits have been to Dubai, which does not require quarantine upon arrival and is open to tourists.
“There’s been years of under-the-radar relations between Israel and the UAE, and we are now enjoying the fruits of the infrastructure of peace that we’ve built in the last decades,” said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat.
On Wednesday, Lapid is to inaugurate Israel’s consulate in Dubai and visit the Israeli pavilion at the site of the World Fair’s Expo in Dubai, which will open in October. Lapid is also due to meet with members of the expatriate Jewish community residing in Dubai.
Shortly after the UAE-Israel pact was signed, the Trump administration authorized the sale of 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which would make it only the second country in the Middle East, after Israel, to acquire them. The Biden administration has vowed to go ahead with the sale of the jets and advanced armed drones.
The UAE’s decision to normalize ties with Israel marked the first time in over two decades that an Arab state had established relations with Israel, following Egypt and Jordan in 1979 and 1994, respectively. It was quickly followed by Bahrain, with similar announcements made later by Sudan and Morocco.
Biden’s administration has expressed support for these pacts, but has also said they are no substitute for engaging on issues between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinians across the political spectrum have slammed the UAE’s ties with Israel in the absence of peace talks or concessions toward a two-state solution.
Lapid’s visit to the UAE comes barely six weeks after an 11-day war in the Gaza Strip that killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children. Gaza’s Health Ministry has not said how many of the dead were militants. In Israel, 13 people died as a result of the conflict, including two children.
Emotions ran high among the Arab public across the Gulf, particularly in the lead-up to the conflict when Israeli forces skirmished with Palestinian protesters at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in the final days of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The site in east Jerusalem is holy to both Jews and Muslims.
The tensions in Jerusalem drew rare public rebuke from the Emirati government, which has rushed to embrace and deepen its newfound public ties with Israel. But the UAE’s tone changed in public statements after Hamas began firing rockets at Israel. The UAE considers Hamas as an Iran-backed militant group and an offshoot of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.