Iran reacting to the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the United Arab Emirates on Monday warned against any Israeli presence in the region.
Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh Monday evening said any step which leads to Israel’s presence in West Asia “is against the interests of Muslim countries and peoples in the region.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a two-day historic trip to the United Arab Emirates, the first visit by an Israeli premier as part of a blitz of regional diplomacy against the backdrop of struggling nuclear talks with Iran.
Bennett's office said the premier met Abu Dhabi's powerful Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for some four hours, with more than half of the time spent in one-on-one talks.
Iran has started overtures to improve relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia in recent months. Abu Dhabi’s top national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Tehran last week after years of distance between the two countries. But Khatibzadeh condemned UAE’s decision to host Bennett. “To host the prime minister of an illegal regime…will remain in the historic memory of the Palestinians, the peoples of the region and all the freedom-lovers in the world,” he said.
Iran was discussed during the meeting although details have remained secret so far. Israel has made offers of military cooperation to the UAE and it was reported that small Arab country dangerously close to Iran across the Persian Gulf, wants to acquire the Iron Dome air defense system from Israel.
An Israeli expert on gulf affairs told AP Tuesday that the recent meeting between the Israeli prime minister and Abu Dhabi's crown prince was "very important".
Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said the meeting "sends a strong message to the region, to the global arena as well, in the background of the talks in Vienna".
Israel has watched with concern as Iran has pushed a hard line against negotiators meeting in Vienna, at once demanding sanctions relief while accelerating its nuclear program.
Guzansky said the talks send the message "that both countries see the threat from Iran and (are) working together on this issue," even if their strategies are different.
Israel and the UAE have long shared concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
Iran says its nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes, while Israel, which considers Iran its greatest enemy, says it will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Bennett on Monday said he was returning home "very optimistic" from the two-day trip to the UAE.
Israel and the UAE last year signed a deal to normalize relations that was brokered by the Trump administration under the "Abraham Accords," a series of diplomatic agreements with Arab countries that also included Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
"A new wind is blowing in the region, and I think new understanding between Israel and some of the countries in the region can be reached because of that," Guzansky said.
With reporting by AP