Naftali Bennett has made history as the first Israeli leader to visit the United Arab Emirates, as he attempts to deepen ties with a former foe at a time of rising tensions over Iran.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto leader, held talks with Bennett a year after their countries normalised relations following Trump’s 2020 intervention using the Abraham accords.
The Abraham accords spearheaded by Trump, normalized relations between Israel and its previous arch Islamic enemies – The UAE, Bahrain and Jordan.
The countries have since exchanged ambassadors and agreed trade deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including agreements on defence and arms development.
On Monday, December 13, Benneth said he wanted to boost economic and commercial ties.l between both countries while urging the UAE to take a tougher stance in response to Iran’s nuclear programme.
Bennett was welcomed by the UAE’s foreign minister and an honour guard when he arrived in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night.
On Monday, he was photographed shaking hands with Sheikh Mohammed before a meeting.
Sheikh Mohammed expressed hope that the visit would “advance the relationship of co-operation towards more positive steps in the interests of the people of the two nations and of the region”
Before departing Israel, Mr Bennett said that he was “going to discuss ways to further our co-operation in a number of fields, especially strengthening our economic and commercial ties”.
Bennett had told his cabinet in Israel that his focus would be Iran, as there was concern in Israel about recent contacts between Emirati and Iranian officials.
Last week, the UAE’s national security advisor, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, a brother of Sheikh Mohammed, met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a visit to Tehran. Sheikh Tahnoon said he hoped the trip would be a “turning point” for relations between the countries.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful, but it is now enriching uranium to a purity just below the level needed for a bomb.
Bennett has accused Israel’s arch-enemy, Iran of carrying out “nuclear blackmail” as a tactic in its negotiations with world powers in Vienna that are aimed at rescuing the deal by bringing Iran and the US back into compliance.
He wants US President Joe Biden to end the talks and take action against Iran, including imposing tighter sanctions and preparing for possible military strikes.