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Ten months after the two nations announced normalization, Israel's new foreign minister to make first official visit to UAE

Visit comes after Netanyahu cancelled four scheduled trips to the Gulf state since the signing of the Abraham Accords

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem for a group photo of the newly sworn in Israeli government, June 14, 2021. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates next week, marking the first time that an Israeli minister visits the affluent Gulf state which signed a normalization agreement with Israel in September 2020.

Alongside Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, the UAE signed the historic Abraham Accords with the Jewish state last year that dramatically changed the dynamic in the Middle East.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed will host Lapid during the historic visit to the capital Abu Dhabi next Tuesday and Wednesday. During the visit, Lapid is expected to inaugurate both the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Jewish state’s consulate in the commercial hub, Dubai.

On Monday, Lapid’s spokesman stressed the importance of the upcoming visit.

“Israel-UAE ties are an important relationship whose fruit are enjoyed not only by the citizens of the two countries, but of the entire Middle East.”

In a tweet, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed his support for Lapid´s historic visit to the Emirates.

"This is an important historic event. Israeli-Emirates relations are an important part of Israel's foreign policy and we will work to deepen them,” said Bennett, adding “Good luck Yair,” alongside Israeli and Emirati flags.

Ram Ben Barak, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, spoke with his Emirati counterpart, Ali Rashid al-Nuaimi, about the growing Emirati-Israeli ties.

“Peace between Israel and the UAE is an important strategic asset in promoting stability and peace in the Middle East... The conversation between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi is a dream come true for me, and adds another level to the cooperation and peace between nations,” said Ben Barak.

Despite the fact that nine months have passed since the normalization agreement was signed and Emirati-Israeli ties have developed quickly, no Israeli Cabinet minister has so far visited the Gulf state. The main reasons cited were domestic Israeli politics and Corona restrictions.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled and cancelled four visits to the UAE. While pandemic restrictions were cited as the main reason for the repeated cancellations, security considerations were likely also a crucial factor following the assassination of Iran’s nuclear chief, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in late November 2020. Iran’s regime blamed Israel for Fakhrizadeh's death and vowed revenge.

At the time, Israeli authorities issued a travel warning, urging Israelis to avoid visiting the Gulf region. It is likely that a visit by Netanyahu to the Gulf at the time, would have constituted a tempting potential target for the Iranian military intelligence and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Netanyahu also did not permit other Israeli ministers to visit the Gulf before he did. Consequently, the scheduled trips of former Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and former Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen both had to be cancelled.

Netanyahu’s fourth attempt to visit the Gulf state was scheduled mere days before the Israeli elections in March. This time the trip was cancelled after the Emiratis expressed concern that it did not want to become part of Israel’s internal campaigning.

Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat – who visited Abu Dhabi two weeks after the Abraham Accords were announced – remains, to date, the highest-ranking Israeli official to visit the Gulf.

Despite the cancelled Israeli ministerial trips, senior ministerial meetings have taken place between Israel and the Gulf states. Ashkenazi and Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan met in the German capital, Berlin, in October.

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani visited the Jewish state in November, where he particularly enjoyed his visit to Jerusalem’s Old City.

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