Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. December 13, 2021

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan meeting on Monday.

Israeli Leader Discusses Iran In First Visit To UAE


Leaders of Israel and the United Arab Emirates discussed Iran in their first ever meeting on Monday but both sides gave little detail about their discussion.

The United Arab Emirates' de facto ruler Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan hosted Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in their first ever public meeting.

Israel's ambassador to Abu Dhabi said the issue of Iran was on the agenda for their talks, which follow the formalization of Israel-UAE relations last year under a US-led regional initiative.

While shared concern about Iranian activity was among reasons for establishing full relations, the UAE has also been trying to improve ties with Tehran, amid Iran’s expanding nuclear program.

Iran has condemned moves by Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel, although it has begun advocating close ties with neighbors since the election of President Ebrahim Raisi. Talks have also taken place between Iran and Saudi Arabia although no breakthrough has been achieved.

Releasing photographs of Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed smiling and shaking hands, the Israeli leader's office described the meeting as "historic".

Before he flew home later in the day, Bennett's office said in a statement that Sheikh Mohammed had accepted an invitation to visit Israel. There was no immediate confirmation from UAE officials.

A statement on state news agency WAM said Sheikh Mohammed voiced hope for "stability in the Middle East" and that Bennet's visit would "advance the relationship of cooperation towards more positive steps in the interests of the people of the two nations and of the region".

Israeli Ambassador Amir Hayek declined to elaborate on any discussion of Iran, but he told Israel's Army Radio: "The prime minister did not only come here solely to address the Iranian issue."

With world powers now trying to renew the Iran nuclear deal, Abu Dhabi last week sent an envoy to Tehran. A US delegation is due in the UAE this week to warn Emirati banks against non-compliance with sanctions on Iran.

Iran is Israel's arch-foe, but it has not been mentioned publicly by Bennett since he set off on Sunday to the UAE with pledges to promote bilateral commerce and other forms of civilian cooperation.

The Israel Hayom newspaper, quoting unnamed officials, said Bennett was expected to brief Sheikh Mohammed on intelligence regarding Iranian-supplied militias and drones in the region.

Israel last month broached setting up joint defenses against Iran with Gulf Arab states. Hayek said military sales to UAE are in the works, though Israeli industry sources say advanced Israeli air defense systems have yet to be offered.

"Israel is in cooperation with a new friend, with a partner for the long-term, and the considerations will be both considerations of defense and also considerations of how you work with a country which is very, very, very friendly to Israel," Hayek said.

Bennett said he told his government to step up efforts to reach a free trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates by the first quarter of 2022.

Israel-UAE bilateral trade in goods alone reached nearly $500 million so far in 2021 - up from $125 million in 2020 - and is expected to continue growing rapidly.

Reporting by Reuters

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