Israel’s new foreign minister will head to the United Arab Emirates next week for the first-ever visit by a top Israeli diplomat to the Gulf country, the Foreign Ministry said.
Foreign minister Yair Lapid’s visit comes after the two countries normalised relations last year in an agreement brokered by the Trump administration, the first of four similar deals with Arab states that had long shunned Israel over its conflict with the Palestinians.
Both Israel’s new government and the Biden administration have said they hope to reach similar accords with other Arab states.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Mr Lapid will visit the UAE on June 29-30, and will inaugurate an Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and a consulate in Dubai.
Mr Lapid was the driving force behind a new Israeli government sworn in just over a week ago that ended prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year rule.
Mr Netanyahu had held up the agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco as among his biggest achievements.
Israelis have flocked to the UAE since the agreement was reached to enjoy futuristic Dubai.
The UAE is a major travel hub, and the agreement has made it much easier for Israelis to travel further afield.
The two countries have also signed a raft of agreements to co-operate in commerce, technology and other fields.
Israel’s i24NEWS announced it has secured a broadcast licence to operate in the UAE and will open its own bureau in Dubai Media City. The 24-hour channel, which aims to cover international news from an Israeli perspective, is already carried by the UAE’s Etisalat and du cable providers.
Shortly after the Israel-UAE accord was reached, the Trump administration authorised the sale of 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which would make it only the second country in the Middle East, after Israel, to acquire them.
The Biden administration put that agreement on hold in January after it drew fierce criticism from Democrats in Congress, who argued that the sale had unfolded too quickly and without sufficient transparency. But in April, the administration decided to proceed with the 23 billion dollar arms sale, saying it would work with the UAE to ensure adherence to human rights standards and the laws of war.
The Palestinians strongly criticised the normalisation agreements because they broke down a long-standing Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only be granted in return for concessions in the peace process, which has been stalled for more than a decade.
Even before the normalisation agreements, Gulf Arab countries had been quietly cultivating closer ties with Israel over their shared concerns about Iran. Senior Israeli officials reportedly paid secret visits to the UAE and other Arab countries in the years before ties were normalised.