Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrived on Sunday in the United Arab Emirates for an historic visit.
Upon arrival, Bennett was welcomed by the UAE's Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed.
Bennett is slated to meet with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on Monday before returning to Israel.
The two plan to discuss boosting ties between the countries, with an emphasis on economic and regional issues, Bennett's office said.
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In a statement, Bennett said that he was glad to take off for the historic visit, which is intended to "deepen the cooperation between the countries in all fields. Our relations are excellent and diverse, and we must continue to nurture and strengthen them, and to build the warm peace between the two nations."
Bennett’s trip comes on the heels of a visit by the UAE’s national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Tehran, where he met with Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, in a bid to ease tensions. It was a major visit for the Gulf Arab federation that has long viewed Iran as its main regional threat. Several other regional political visits, by Syria’s foreign minister and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have also taken place recently, all with an eye on the negotiations.
Israel, which is not a party to the talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna, has turned to its allies to work together and lobby negotiators seeking to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, and it strongly opposed the 2015 deal. It says it wants an improved deal that places tighter restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and addresses Iran’s long-range missile program and its support for hostile proxies along Israel’s borders. Israel also says the negotiations must be accompanied by a “credible” military threat to ensure that Iran does not delay indefinitely.
Iran says its nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes.
If successful, Bennett’s visit to the UAE could give him a boost at home at a time when he is under fire for a recent trip by his family abroad amid COVID travel restrictions and when the legitimacy of his leadership is still being questioned by opposition lawmakers and the voters who support them.
Last June, Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited the UAE for the inauguration of the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi, hailing a "historic moment." It was the first high-level trip by an Israeli official since the two countries signed a U.S.-brokered agreement to normalize relations last year.
"Israel wants peace with its neighbors – with all its neighbors," Lapid said in a speech at the inauguration of the embassy. "We aren't going anywhere. The Middle East is our home. We're here to stay, and we call on all the countries in the region to recognize that and to come talk to us."
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had repeatedly scheduled and postponed a visit to Abu Dhabi due to the coronavirus pandemic, but ultimately canceled the visit ahead of the March 23 elections due to a diplomatic spat with neighboring Jordan. Netanyahu reportedly forbade members of his government from traveling to the UAE until he had a chance to make a state visit, according to Israeli media reports.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.