Israeli PM meets crown prince in UAE, Iran on agenda

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed at his private palace in Abu Dhabi on Dec 13, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

ABU DHABI (REUTERS) - Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on Monday (Dec 13) in the first public meeting between an Israeli leader and the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) de facto ruler.

Israel's Ambassador to UAE said the issue of Iran was on the agenda for their talks, which follow the formalisation of Israel-UAE relations last year under a United States-led regional initiative.

While shared concern about Iranian activity was among reasons for the diplomatic moves, the UAE has also been trying to improve relations with Teheran.

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

A statement on state news agency WAM said Sheikh Mohammed voiced hope for "stability in the Middle East" and that Mr Bennett’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". 

The Palestinians, whose diplomacy with Israel has been stalled since 2014, have deplored the Israeli-Emirati rapprochement. 

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

With world powers now trying to renew the Iran nuclear deal, Abu Dhabi last week sent an envoy to Teheran. A US delegation is due in 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 Mr Bennett since he set off on Sunday for the first visit by an Israeli Premier to UAE with pledges to promote bilateral commerce and other forms of civilian cooperation.

The Israel Hayom newspaper, quoting unnamed officials, said Mr 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 defences against Iran with Gulf Arab states.

Mr Hayek said military sales to UAE are in the works, though Israeli industry sources said advanced Israeli air defence 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 defence and also considerations of how you work with a country which is very, very, very friendly to Israel," said Mr Hayek.

Israel-UAE bilateral trade in goods alone reached nearly US$500 million (S$684 million) so far in 2021 - up from US$125 million in 2020 - and is expected to continue growing rapidly.

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