Bennett Arrives in UAE Via Saudi Arabia

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Israeli PM Bennet welcomed by the UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi. (Chaim Zach)

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday and will meet its de facto ruler in the highest-level visit since the countries formalized relations last year.

Before taking off from Tel Aviv, Bennett said he and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan would meet on Monday to discuss ways to bolster cooperation and strengthen economic and commercial ties.

Israel has broached setting up joint defenses with Gulf Arab states that share its concern over Iranian activities. Yet the UAE has also reached out to its Iran, sending its senior national security adviser there last Monday to meet his Iranian counterpart and President Ebrahim Raisi.

A spokesperson for Bennett confirmed the Israeli leader’s arrival in Abu Dhabi. A flightracking app showed that his El Al Israel Airlines plane flew over Saudi Arabia, a country that does not have diplomatic ties with Israel, en route to the UAE.

Bennett’s UAE trip is the first visit by an Israeli premier to any of those countries since the accords. Saudi Arabia agreed last year to allow Israel-UAE flights to cross despite the absence of official ties.

The rapprochement has been condemned by Palestinians, whose diplomacy with Israel stalled in 2014.

Bennett’s visit “violates the Arab consensus that is supposed to support the Palestinian cause amid the challenges imposed by the (Israeli) occupation,” Wasel Abu Youssef of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization told Reuters.

An Israeli newspaper reported on Sunday that Israel had declined to sell missile defenses to the UAE due to its Iran links. A policy review could now be called for, Yisrael Hayom said, suggesting the approval of such sales may help distance the UAE from Tehran.

Israeli and UAE officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on that report.

The Bennett government is due to decide this week whether to green-light a private Israeli-Emirati contract to offload Gulf oil in the Red Sea port of Eilat. That deal has been challenged in Israel’s High Court by environmentalists and is opposed by Bennett’s energy minister.