image Photo: Haim Zach (GPO)

Bennett hails UAE trip as “significant”

“This is the essence of peace and the new reality in the region,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said about his landmark visit to the United Arab Emirates.

By Erin Viner

Bilateral relations between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi are being bolstered in all aspects, said the Israeli leader, who visited at the invitation of of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

“I have just finished a very significant visit to the UAE. I would like to thank Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for the very warm hospitality and the in-depth, sincere and significant talks,” said the Prime Minister immediately prior to departing for home.

“During the day, we discussed the two countries’ relative strengths. Our goal is to expand ties so that there is not only peace between the leaders but also between the peoples. I am leaving here with great optimism that this example, of ties between the two countries, will be a cornerstone for a wide-ranging network of ties throughout the region,” he said.

“Throughout the day we had meaningful, in-depth and straightforward talks about our two nations, about the region and about our economy and technology and what we can do together,” he added, underscoring that he was “flying back to Israel very optimistic that this relationship can set an example of how we can make peace here in the Middle East.”

The unprecedented visit was the first by an Israeli premier since the two countries signed the Abraham Accords last year. Bennett lauded the normalization pact for establishing new and deep foundations for diplomatic, economic and cultural cooperation for the benefit of the entire region.

According to a joint statement following the Prime Minister of Israel’s meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan obtained by TV7, the Israeli Prime Minister’s successful visit to the United Arab Emirates “is another milestone in the development of warm relations and a tremendous partnership forged between the two countries.”

The talks addressed a variety of economic and civic issues “in which there has been significant progress in the past year, including private and public sector cooperation in R&D, technology, food security, climate, water, energy, environment, health and tourism,” said the statement, adding that, “Both sides confirmed a shared desire to advance a range of significant areas of cooperation to further strengthen trade and economic relations, by establishing a joint research and development fund. This joint fund, and a corresponding joint business council, will harness leading economic and technological minds in the UAE and in Israel, and task them with commercializing solutions to challenges ranging from climate change and desertification to clean energy and future agriculture.”

Israeli Prime Minister Bennett has reportedly instructed his staff to expedite work on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), together with the Economics Ministry, for signing with the UAE in the first quarter of 2022.

In addition, the Israeli and UAE leaders “seek to leverage the respective strengths and strategic relationships of the business communities in each country, to advance not only bilateral trade and innovation, but together bring technologies and business opportunities to markets across the Middle East, CIS, East Asia and Africa.”

Other topics for discussion included efforts to reach a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (UAEIL-CEPA), strengthen climate cooperation and promote regional connectivity through economic and infrastructure cooperation.

During exploration of bilateral efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting cooperation in research and development on testing and treatment; the leaders commended the high rate of vaccination in both countries – noting that the UAE and Israel are ranked among the top countries worldwide in this regard. They also pledged to continue working together to “pursue a sustainable and equitable economic recovery from the pandemic,” said the statement.

Another fundamental tenet of the two nation’s leaders was the ongoing commitment to advancing the values of interfaith tolerance and the development of ties between peoples.

Other highlights of Prime Minister Bennett’s trip included meetings with the UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber. The two discussed cooperation between the two countries in technology, trade and energy, especially projects in the field of renewable energy.

He also discussed bilateral cooperation in culture and sports, including film and joint television productions with UAE Culture Minister Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi.

Israel’s deepening relations with the UAE has evidently infuriated Iran. Tehran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told the regime-run IRNA news outlet that Bennett’s visit to Abu Dhabi is “disruptive to the region’s security and goes against the interests of the Islamic Republic and the people of the region as well as Arab countries.”

Referencing joint-exploration by Israel and the United States of “other options” if diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute at Vienna should fail, IRNA cited a senior leader of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as warning that the ‘provision of conditions for military commanders to test Iranian missiles with real targets would be costly for the aggressors.’

The IRGC is currently preparing a space launch in blatant violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) world powers seek to revive. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which is the only legal document that ratified the 2015 nuclear pact, obligates Iran to not “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology” for a minimum of 8 years. The latest breach of the JCPOA follows dozens of tests conducted by the IRGC of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads.

While refusing direct comment on the Iranian missile launch, Press Secretary for the US Department of Defense and John Kirby said the Pentagon is “mindful that Iran’s ballistic missile program has improved over recent years.” Stating that this “capability” poses threatens the security interests of the US and its regional partners, Kirby reiterated the recent pledge of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that Washington will be carefully monitoring Iran to “make sure that we have the capabilities that we need to defend our interests in the region and to assist our allies and partners doing the same.”

The latest developments come as diplomats from the E3 nations of France, Britain and Germany released a statement revealing that “time is running out” to reach an agreement with Iran and that “we still have not been able to get down to real negotiations” in Vienna. “Without swift progress, in light of Iran’s fast-forwarding of its nuclear program, the JCPOA will very soon become an empty shell,” they stressed.

The Iranian delegation in Austria responded by accusing the E3 of engaging in a so-called “blame game” rather than engaging in “real diplomacy.”

Three Israeli officials told Barak Ravid of Walla News that Jerusalem is increasingly concerned that US President Joe Biden may consider a “less-for-less” agreement that would lift some sanctions on Tehran if it would partially freeze uranium enrichment.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is reportedly expected to travel to Jerusalem next Wednesday to discuss this option with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.