Israel Mourns Death of UAE Leader, Promotes Successor as ‘Continuing Path’ of Peace

Israeli President Herzog with new UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. Photo credit: Spokesperson of the Office of the President

Israeli President Isaac Herzog traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday to attend the funeral of UAE President and ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed and to express his condolences to the new UAE leader, Sheikh Khalifa’s brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. While there, Herzog lauded the UAE’s new leader and spoke of hope of continued cooperation between the two countries. The UAE were the first Arab nation in decades to agree to peace accords with Israel back in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords.

“Your brother, Sheikh Khalifa, was an extraordinary man. His brave leadership contributed tremendously to advancing his country and his people and to the partnership that materialized in recent years between our countries,” said Herzog to Sheikh Mohammed on Sunday in comments published by Israel. “The partnership which he advanced is an asset for us and for the entire region. His is a legacy of progress and of striving for peace in the Middle East.”

The good news for Israel is that that legacy is expected to continue with new leader Mohammed bin Zayed, also known by his initials “MBZ”. The Times of Israel reported that due to Sheikh Khalifa’s illness in recent years, MBZ has not only been mostly leading the country, he also was the key official heading up the UAE’s diplomatic normalization with Israel. Herzog alluded to that history in his comments to MBZ on Sunday.

“You are continuing the path of your brother, by generating a dramatic change following the Abraham Accords which you signed alongside the State of Israel and other countries,” said Herzog. “I believe that together we will advance and strengthen the peaceful relations thriving between us and our nations.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid offered similar support for MBZ in a series of posts to Twitter on Saturday. Lapid said the new UAE leader “will continue the ways of his father and brother who established a state based on tolerance and peace. He has demonstrated his leadership in reshaping the face of the Middle East for partnership, peace, and cooperation for the good of future generations. The State of Israel will continue to cooperate with his vision for a better world and brotherhood between our peoples.”

That cooperation has been growing since the groundbreaking Abraham Accords were signed less than two years ago. Just last month, Israel and the UAE signed a free trade agreement to further collaborate.

The Abraham Accords were the culmination of years of effort by the United States and years of covert contacts between Israel and various Arab states addressing shared concerns such as Iran. As the Arab nation that took the first official step towards peace in 2020, the UAE was just the third Arab nation to publicly align with Israel at the time. That courage and vision was on Herzog’s mind on Friday after hearing of the passing of Sheikh Khalifa.

“This is a great loss for our friends in the UAE and for the whole region,” said Herzog in comments published by Israel on Friday. “Sheikh Khalifa’s bold leadership 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. His life’s work pushed the Middle East to new horizons of prosperity and cooperation.”

In a sense, even Herzog’s visit to the UAE for Sheikh Khalifa’s funeral would have been unheard of just a handful of years ago. This weekend, when Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett offered his support for the UAE after Sheikh Khalifa’s passing, his words were said to an actual ally and not a secret partner.

Said Bennett in a statement from his office on Friday, “Sheikh Khalifa’s great legacy and deeds were appreciated by many in Israel. The State of Israel stands alongside the UAE and its people at this difficult time.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, May 15, 2022)

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