The Israeli president’s recent trip to the UAE served to send a message not only to the Emiratis, but also the wider Arab-Islamic world.
President Isaac Herzog became the first Israeli president to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week, roughly 16 months after Abu Dhabi normalised diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. The president’s trip also came eight weeks after Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Abu Dhabi.
These high-profile visits underscore the extent to which Israel and the UAE are working to build on the Abraham Accords and showcase a highly optimistic view about what this bilateral relationship can do for them in the years ahead.
The Emiratis and Israelis are now cooperating in diverse sectors from tech to tourism, agriculture to energy, and others. Saying that Abu Dhabi is ambitious about its trade goals with Israel is quite the understatement. Since the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020, the bilateral trade volume has already reached $1 billion — a figure that the UAE wants to have reached $1 trillion by 2031.
The UAE and Israel having much in common, from their small geographic sizes to similarly young populations, has contributed to their expanding bilateral ties. “There is an entrepreneurial spirit in both countries, as you know Israel is home to many start-ups and so is the UAE, they try to attract talent and capital to try to diversify their economic activity and growth,” Serhat S Cubukcuoglu, a senior researcher in geopolitics and a doctoral candidate in International Affairs at Johns Hopkins, told TRT World.
The timing of Herzog’s visit to the UAE was significant, particularly from a security perspective, considering the intensifying hostility between Abu Dhabi and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. With Iran-backed insurgents in Yemen attacking the UAE three times last month — resulting in three deaths and damaged oil infrastructure near the international airport in Abu Dhabi — the UAE finds itself facing a major threat from the Houthis.
Although the US and UAE managed to defend the Gulf country from the second and third attacks, there is much nervousness in the Emirates regarding Houthi power. Even if the Americans and Emiratis continue successfully deflecting such attacks down the road, the deadly episode has already done much to shatter the UAE’s reputation as a stable and peaceful country that fortresses itself from violence unleashed in other parts of the tumultuous Middle East.
Strong support from Israel
With Abu Dhabi being the latest front to open in the Yemen conflict(s), Israel is keen to demonstrate to the UAE that Tel Aviv is fully committed to standing by its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The day that Houthi missiles and drones hit Abu Dhabi, Prime Minister Bennett condemned the Houthis for their “terrorist drone attack,” and offered security and intelligence support.
But beyond rhetoric, Israel can further help the Emiratis when it comes to military technology, intelligence sharing, maritime security, and much more. As Israel has one of the world’s most advanced militaries, Abu Dhabi sees the Jewish state as a partner that can benefit the UAE from a security standpoint.
“Israelis will be looking to sell advanced air defence systems to the Emiratis, in part to deepen ties, and, in part, to simply make an arms sale, and the Houthis are helping pitch that inadvertently,” Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at the risk consultancy Stratfor/Rane, told this author.
Since last month, the UAE has been showing an interest in acquiring Green Pine, an Israeli radar part of a missile defence system. “[Considering] Israel and the US’s experience in developing Israel’s Iron Dome technologies, we may see increasingly the UAE and Saudi Arabia perhaps looking to establish their own iron domes or a similar style of technology to protect them from incoming missiles from the Houthis or perhaps from Iran,” added Dr Annelle Sheline, a Research Fellow in the Middle East programme at the Quincy Institute, in an interview with TRT World.
As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed put it last month, his country and Israel share a “common view of the threats to regional stability and peace, particularly those posed by militias and terrorist forces.”
Even prior to the Abraham Accords, the UAE and Israel were frequently in the same boat largely due to various factors, including their antagonistic attitudes towards political Islam and their skepticism regarding the Arab uprisings, as well as Iran.
Now, with both the UAE and Israel questioning Washington’s long-term commitments to the Middle East, it makes sense how these two regional states are strengthening relations with each other as GCC states prepare for the “post-American Gulf era.”
But it may behove the Emiratis to also consider how their relationship with Israel can make the UAE more of a target in the future, especially if there are escalations between Iran and Israel.
Regardless, the Israeli president’s recent trip to the UAE was about sending a message not only to the Emiratis but also to the wider Arab-Islamic world.
Herzog is communicating to other Muslim-majority countries that if they join the Abraham Accords, they too can benefit from security cooperation with the Israelis. How well that message gets across to governments throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia remains to be seen.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
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