July 28, 2021

First official Israeli visit to the United Arab Emirates under the watchful eye of Washington

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, architect of the standardization agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), dreamed of it. It is his rival, Yair Lapid, who appears in the photo taken Tuesday, June 29 at Abu Dhabi airport. The brand new foreign minister is the first member of an Israeli government to set foot on Emirati soil on an official visit – but he knows who he owes it to. “This moment is hers [celui de M. Nétanyahou], just as much as ours “, he said while inaugurating the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, the first in a Gulf country. On August 13, 2020, Benjamin Netanyahu announced a normalization agreement with the UAE, sponsored by the United States of Donald Trump. Three more will follow, with Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

The former head of government then tried four times to organize an official visit to finalize this partnership – to no avail. The last test, just before Israel’s legislative elections in March, collapsed after Jordan refused to let the prime minister’s plane fly through its skies. Ten months have passed since the agreement, the Emirates have sent an ambassador to Tel Aviv but Israel, plagued for months by a political crisis which has put an end to any new appointment of ambassadors, has so far only ‘a charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi.

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Standardization “Does not advance as easily as we hoped, observes Moran Zaga, researcher at the University of Haifa, specialist in the UAE. Yaïr Lapid’s visit should help remove certain barriers that still stand in the way ”, in particular for bilateral agreements around education, security or agriculture. According to her, however, the relationship between the UAE and Israel is not limited to the twelfth economic agreement signed on Tuesday evening or the common perception of an Iranian threat. It revolves around the place that the two countries intend to occupy in a Middle East “Where the international powers are retreating”.

Less divisive

“Yair Lapid is trying to rehabilitate the relationship with the American Democrats because he knows that, in the region, his ability to promote Israel as an asset for countries like the United Arab Emirates depends in part on his ability to demonstrate that the Hebrew state maintains a very close link with the United States ”, explains Sarah Feuer of the Institute for National Security Studies. Moreover, just before flying to Abu Dhabi, Yair Lapid met Bahraini officials in Rome and especially the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Washington has hinted that standardization agreements signed in fall 2020 “Forced [Israël] to make an effort with the Palestinians ”, Israel’s foreign minister reported in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday.

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