Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Prime Minister, Visits U.A.E.


JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel made a snap trip to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, the latest display of the strengthening alliance between the two countries and their united front against Iran amid rising tensions over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The visit, during which Mr. Bennett met with the U.A.E.’s president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, came just over a week after Israel and the Emirates signed a wide-ranging free-trade agreement, another sign of the deepening ties between Israel and some Arab governments after decades of being isolated in the region.

Israel and the Emirates established full diplomatic relations less than two years ago. Brokered by the Trump administration, that breakthrough led to a broader regional alignment, resulting in diplomatic agreements with Bahrain and Morocco.

Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan decades ago, but while the security relationships have endured, the lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long stymied the normalization of ties between Israel and those Arab countries.

By contrast, Israel’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates has been markedly warmer and more friendly. After years of quiet and informal ties, business deals are out into the open, multiple direct flights cross daily between Tel Aviv and cities in the U.A.E. and hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken vacations in Dubai.

As he left Israel on Thursday morning, Mr. Bennett said he was going to Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital, to express his condolences, and those of the Israeli people, on the death last month of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the country’s president and the older half brother of Mohammed bin Zayed.

Mr. Bennett described Sheikh Mohammed, the former crown prince of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Khalifa’s successor, as “a man of vision and a brave leader,” and said: “Today, together, we will take the special bond that has been woven between our countries to the next level — for the growth and security of both our peoples.”

Mr. Bennett also referred to the Iranian nuclear issue, one of the main factors underpinning the Israeli-Emirati alliance, commending an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution on Wednesday criticizing Iran for a lack of transparency in its nuclear program.

“We see in this decision the lies and the hypocrisy of Iran on the nuclear issue and in general,” Mr. Bennett said. “On the other hand, we see here a firm stance by the countries of the world regarding the distinction between good and evil, as they clearly state that Iran is concealing things. We will not let up on this issue.”

Iran insists that its nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes. During a visit to Israel last week, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael M. Grossi, met with Mr. Bennett. The Israeli prime minister expressed “deep concern regarding Iran’s continued progress toward achieving nuclear weapons while deceiving the international community by using false information and lies,” his office said in a statement.

Talks to renew an international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for an easing of sanctions are stalled, and the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran plans to ramp up its uranium enrichment.

The recent deaths in Iran of several military officers have added to the tensions between Iran and Israel, which for years has conducted a clandestine war of sabotage and targeted killings against its regional rival.

Mr. Bennett’s office said that his trip to Abu Dhabi came at the invitation of the Emirati president and that the leaders discussed various economic and regional issues. It was their third meeting in recent months, and the first since Sheikh Mohammed became president.

On Thursday, they met privately for about two hours at the president’s palace, then held a working lunch with members of their delegations, according to Mr. Bennett’s office.

The visit burnishes Mr. Bennett’s foreign policy credentials and his international stature a year after he took office. It is also likely to have come as a welcome distraction from his domestic political troubles. His diverse coalition of eight political parties, with clashing ideologies and agendas, is on the verge of collapse. It currently controls only about half the seats in Parliament, and is finding it increasingly difficult to pass legislation and govern.

The diplomatic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the first element of what became known as the Abraham Accords, was signed during the tenure of Mr. Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now the leader of the opposition.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to capitalize on his partnership with the Emirates shortly before a close-fought election in March 2021 injected a sour note into the budding relationship between the two countries as Emirati officials sent clear signals that the Persian Gulf country would not be drawn into a campaign for Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election.





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