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Israel’s president to pay first visit to UAE

President Isaac Herzog will leave with his wife Michal on Sunday for a historic first visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog will travel to the United Arab Emirates Jan. 30 for a first-ever visit by an Israeli president to the country. During his two-day trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Herzog is expected to meet with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Dubai ruler Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, senior Emirati government officials and members of the Jewish community in the country. Herzog will also will open "Israel Day" at the Expo 2020 in Dubai.

In a statement issued by his office, Herzog thanked bin Zayed for his invitation, which he called a historic opportunity to deepen the bonds of friendship between peoples. The statement read, “We have the privilege of making history by making the first visit of an Israeli president to the United Arab Emirates. This important visit comes as the Israeli and Emirati nations are busy laying the foundations of a new shared future. I believe that our bold new partnership will transform the Middle East and inspire the whole region. We are a peace-loving nation and together we will expand the historic circle of peace of the Abraham Accords and create a better, more tolerant and safer world for our children.”

Herzog has already been in contact with bin Zayed. The two men had spoken on the phone several times and the prince called Herzog two weeks ago to offer his condolences on the death of his mother Aura Herzog.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was the first senior Israeli minister to officially visit the Emirates. In his June 2021 visit, the minister inaugurated the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi and dedicated a consulate in Dubai. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett first visited the Emirates last December, where he met with the Crown Prince in another first for the two countries.

Referring to the 2020 Abraham Accords normalizing ties between Israel and Arab Muslim countries, Lapid said yesterday he hopes to build on these agreements and establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and with Indonesia. Still, Lapid noted that such progress will probably take time.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reportedly traveled secretly to Saudi Arabia in November 2020 for a triparty meeting in Neom with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also visiting the country. Reports also said then-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen accompanied Netanyahu on the trip. The leaked news of the visit apparently infuriated the Saudis to the point of halting any further Israeli efforts for rapprochement.

Herzog's trip to the Emirates comes at a sensitive moment as tensions in the region increase over a recent drone attack by Yemen's Houthis against the Emirates and over Houthi threats against the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. After the drone attack, Bennett sent the Emirati leadership a letter offering his condolences for the victims and Israeli intelligence assistance. Israeli security experts are pointing to Iran, accusing it of sponsored the drone strike and expressing fear that Israel is also a Houthi target, notably the southern city of Eilat and its international port.