Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, ten days before Israel's fourth election in two years, according to sources in the government. This marks his first official visit to the UAE since the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel.
Netanyahu is expected to meet with Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and return to Israel on the same day. According to governmental sources, the trip was coordinated with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
Israeli officials, led by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, are also trying to secure a meeting between Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would be their first public meeting.
However, a Saudi official source denied the report and told Reuters that Prince Mohammed would not be visiting the UAE on Thursday and would not be meeting Netanyahu.
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In September, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements to normalize ties with Israel becoming the first Arab states in a quarter century to break a longstanding taboo, in a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.
Saudi Arabia, a Gulf powerhouse and Islam's birthplace, encouraged the rapprochement but stopped short of recognizing Israel itself. In November, Israeli officials and sources familiar with the matter said Netanyahu and Prince Mohammed met covertly in the kingdom but Riyadh publicly denied the meeting.
In early February, Netanyahu delayed his trips to the UAE and Bahrain for the third time, due to the restrictions on air travel as part of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Government sources said that Netanyahu feared that traveling to the Gulf would spark criticism, as many citizens were unable to return as a result of Israel’s border controls.
Reuters contributed to this report.