Israel’s foreign minister arrived 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.
At the inauguration of the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told diplomats that it was an “historic moment”.
“The Middle East is our home and we’re here to stay. So we call on all the countries of the region to recognise that and to come and talk to us,” he said.
עושים היסטוריה: גאה לייצג את מדינת ישראל בביקור רשמי ראשון באיחוד האמירויות. תודה על קבלת הפנים החמה. 🇮🇱 🇦🇪
نصنع التاريخ: فخور بتمثيل دولة إسرائيل في أول زيارة رسمية إلى الإمارات العربية المتحدة. شكرا على الترحيب الحار pic.twitter.com/sxVXPYcghQ
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) June 29, 2021
Translation: ‘Making history: Proud to represent the State of Israel in a first official visit to the UAE’ Thank you for the warm welcome.
Lapid was set 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 regional threat.
The administration of former United States President Donald Trump brokered the so-called “Abraham Accords” agreement that established ties between the UAE and Israel. It was hailed at the time by both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as among their greatest achievements.
While Lapid was in Abu Dhabi, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the opening of the Israeli embassy there.
In a statement, Blinken said the embassy opening and Lapid’s visit to the Gulf country were “significant for Israel, the UAE, and the broader region”, The Times of Israel reported.
“The United States will continue to work with Israel and the UAE as we strengthen all aspects of our partnerships and work to create a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future for all the peoples of the Middle East,” Blinken said.
Netanyahu the ‘architect’
Lapid’s two-day visit to the UAE was one that Netanyahu had hoped to make himself before his 12-year run in power ended earlier this month. He had repeatedly tried to score a lightning trip to Abu Dhabi to capitalise on the normalisation deal his government signed and boost his re-election campaign.
In acknowledgement of Netanyahu, Lapid said the former prime minister was “the architect of the Abraham Accords” who “worked tirelessly to bring them about”.
Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have since also moved to establish ties with Israel. The regional rapprochement was deplored by Palestinians who wanted their demands for statehood free of Israeli occupation addressed first.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Abraham Accords as “an illusion” and asserted that colonial powers had “implant[ed] Israel as a foreign body in this region in order to fragment it and keep it weak,” according to the official Palestinian news service WAFA.
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.
Lapid is also set to visit the site of Expo 2020 Dubai, a world fair opening in October, where Israel has built a pavilion.
Lapid’s plane transited through Saudi airspace on its way to the UAE. Riyadh, although not having normalised relations with Israel, last year opened its skies to Israel-UAE flights.
The UAE formally opened its embassy in Israel, temporarily located in the Tel Aviv stock exchange, to little fanfare this month.
Israel’s Abu Dhabi embassy still has only three diplomats and a head of mission, Eitan Na’eh, who has yet to be confirmed as full ambassador. The consulate in Dubai is similarly located in temporary premises.