Israel's Herzog, Palestinian President Abbas Pay Respects in UAE After Leader's Death

World leaders descend on Abu Dhabi to offer condolences on President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan's death

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President Isaac Herzog extends his condolences to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
President Isaac Herzog extends his condolences to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.Credit: President's Office Spokesperson
Jonathan Lis

World leaders descended on the United Arab Emirates on Sunday to offer condolences on the death of President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was succeeded by his half-brother and de facto leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

Sheikh Mohammed, now ruler of wealthy Abu Dhabi emirate, steered the Western-allied Gulf state, an OPEC oil producer and regional business hub, for years before being elected the UAE's third president by a federal supreme council on Saturday.

Israel's President Issac Herzog expressed his condolences to Sheikh Mohammed in Abu Dhabi after landing there on Sunday. "I came in the name of the people of Israel to extend my condolences to you, your family and the Emirati people," he said, praising Sheikh Khalifa for his brave leadership and for his contributions to the ties between the UAE and Israel.  

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and UAE deputy PM Mansour bin Zayed carry the body of late President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed during his funeral on Friday.Credit: Ministry of Presidential Affairs/Handout via REUTERS

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was also due to visit on Sunday, as was Britain's prime minister. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders are not expected to meet.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country holds lucrative business and military ties with the UAE, arrived in Abu Dhabi, the embassy said.

In Israel, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Abir Kara visited the home of Emirati Ambassador to Israel Mohammed al Khaja on Sunday to express their condolences for the passing of Sheikh Khalifa. "Israel and the UAE are true friends; we share your pain and sorrow and are speaking of an optimistic, shared future for both peoples," Shaked said. 

Herzog, along with two cabinet members, will stay in Abu Dhabi for several hours only, his office said. He issued a statement on Friday, saying that Sheikh Khalifa, who died at age 73, "contributed so much to the advancement of the UAE and its people and to the growing partnership between our countries and is a great legacy for his successors."

Ahead of his Sunday visit, Herzog said that "the partnership between our countries is a great asset for us and for the whole region" adding that the legacy left by Sheikh Khalifa is that of "peace... friendship between the peoples of the region, progress and prosperity."

Deceased United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan photographed in Kuwait in 2019.Credit: Stephanie McGehee/ REUTERS

Herzog first met the crown prince in January, in what was the first visit of an Israeli president to the UAE after the two countries forged ties in a major realignment of the Middle East, drawing Palestinian ire.

U.S. President Joe Biden, whose administration has had fraught ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, will be represented by Vice President Kamala Harris, due to visit on Monday.

Several Arab leaders, including Jordan's king and Egypt's president, came on Saturday to pay respects. Saudi Arabia's crown prince, whose father King Salman entered hospital a week ago, sent a delegation.

Sheikh Mohammed, known as MBZ, has been a driving force in Middle East politics, championing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the West as he rose to power and combating political Islam, seen as a threat to Gulf dynastic rule, at home and around the region.

MBZ deepened ties with Russia and China as Gulf states increasingly questioned the regional commitment of traditional security guarantor the United States. Strains in U.S.-Emirati ties were highlighted by the Russia-Ukraine conflict as Gulf states refused to side with Western allies in isolating Moscow.

After years of enmity Abu Dhabi has also moved to engage with Iran and Turkey as the UAE doubles down on economic growth amid rising regional competition and a global push away from hydrocarbons, the lifeblood of Gulf economies.

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