Israeli PM Bennett Makes Historic Visit to UAE

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has arrived on the first visit of an Israeli leader in the United Arab Emirates. Photo courtesy of Haim Zach (Israeli GPO)

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli Prime Minister to ever officially visit the United Arab Emirates, a trip made possible by the peace achieved in last year’s Abraham Accords signed by the nations. But while historic peace and economic cooperation were in the foreground, concerns about how UAE companies may be helping Iran evade sanctions were looming beneath the surface and were set to be the topic of a separate United States visit to the Arab nation.

Upon arriving, Bennett was greeted by an honor guard and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed. An Israeli press release said Bennett told the UAE he “appreciated the hospitality and added it was a splendid welcome. He noted that he was very moved to be in the UAE, on the first official visit by an Israeli leader. He said that he expected to strengthen the network of relations between the two countries.”

On the Israeli visit, Bennett is scheduled to meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. “We’re going to be discussing ways to further our cooperation in a number of fields, especially strengthening our economic and commercial ties,” said Bennett in comments released by his office prior to his departure for the trip. “In just one year since normalizing our relationship, we’ve already seen the extraordinary potential of the Israel-UAE partnership. This is just the beginning.”

A separate Israeli press release noted that among the discussion topics regarding “deepening the ties” between the nations would be “regional issues that will contribute to prosperity, welfare and strengthening the stability between the two countries.” Comments in Hebrew by Bennett prior to his departure and posted to the Prime Minister’s website, as translated by Google, said, “Relations are excellent and branching, and we must continue to cultivate and strengthen them, and build the warm peace between the two peoples.”

Meanwhile, while Bennett is setting expectations for a warm and friendly visit to the UAE, the Americans were preparing for a very different experience. This week, US officials are expected to discuss sanctions compliance and how private companies and the financial sector in the UAE may be facilitating Iran’s evasion of nuclear-related sanctions, according to US spokesperson Ned Price.

“We’re going to the UAE to discuss private sector entities and financial institutions, to ensure that the United States and our Emirati counterparts, that we have a full understanding of what these entities are doing, what they may be doing in an effort to evade sanctions compliance,” said Price in comments to reporters last Thursday published by the State Department. “To be very clear, we’re talking about private companies here and not the work of the Emirati Government.”

The US delegation is to be headed by Andrea Gacki, the director of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control—which enforces US sanctions around the world. Price made it clear that sanctions enforcement and compliance discussions have been going on since “the earliest days” of the Biden Administration and that US delegations will visit other countries in the coming weeks.

US sanctions on Iran over the latter’s nuclear ambitions are a key point in the current international negotiations with Iran to try and revive the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The US has repeatedly said they will lift sanctions as part of Iran re-instituting restrictions on their nuclear program.

“We have been very clear that as long as Iran is not in compliance, as long as we have not achieved a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, we will maintain the pressure on Iran,” said Price.

As for Israel, Bennett’s visit to the UAE isn’t the only historic moment this week shared by the two countries. The UAE Football National Team’s youth division played its Israeli counterparts in Israel on Sunday. While Israel won the competition 4-1 according to the Israel Football Association website, the match was about much more than just about soccer. Israeli Prime Minister’s Office Spokesman Ofir Gendelman, in comments in Arabic translated by Google, posted to Twitter about the game. “This historic match takes place against the backdrop of Prime Minister Bennett’s first visit to the UAE and reflects the friendly relations between the two peoples,” tweeted Gendelman.

“In the end, it does not matter who will win this match because the winner in any case is the two peoples. I wish success to both teams.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, December 12, 2021)

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