Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to the United Arab Emirates in 2018 for a secret meeting with the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, according to a report Tuesday by Yediot Acharonot. According to the report, Netanyahu was accompanied by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who facilitated the visit.
Diplomatic sources told Yediot that the meeting was held in a “good atmosphere” and that there was a follow-up meeting a year later in Washington attended by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and representatives of the U.S. and UAE governments.
According to the report, Israel’s then-ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, was heavily involved in the negotiations that ultimately led to the normalization deal with the UAE.
The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on the report, though Netanyahu himself alluded during his address on Monday that he has held a number of “secret meetings” with Arab and Muslim leaders.
“I meet with many, many leaders in the Arab and Muslim world. Much more than you think,” Netanyahu said, in celebrating the departure of an official Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi to discuss normalization. “There’s more that I still cannot tell you, but I believe it will come out eventually.”
In 2018 Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Oman — the first by an Israeli leader in over 20 years. Cohen and Ben Shabbat also accompanied the prime minister on that trip.
Oman is among a handful of Middle Eastern states, including Bahrain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, that Israel and the U.S. hope could follow the UAE in forging diplomatic ties with Israel. Oman expressed its support for the Israel-UAE normalization deal the day after it was announced.
The UAE is just the third Arab country to agree to establish official relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Arab countries will soon follow suit, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests, and shared enmity toward Iran.