On Wednesday, Israel’s new foreign minister said his momentous trip to the United Arab Emirates was just the initiation of a road to broader peace in the Middle East, attaining to Arab states still wary of normalizing ties.
Yair Lapid, the first Israeli cabinet minister to visit the Gulf state since the countries forged ties last year, also reiterated Israel’s concern about the Iran nuclear deal being negotiated in the Austrian capital, Vienna.
The trip comes amongst disquiet in Israel and Arab capitals about US efforts to re-enter the JCPOA between Iran and world powers, which then-President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018 in a move backed by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.
“This visit is not the end of the road to peace, it is just the beginning,” Lapid told reporters. “Our hand is outstretched … I hope this visit is the first of many and that together with our new friends we will continue to make history in the entire region.”
The UAE and Bahrain normalized ties with Israel under the “Abraham Accords” brokered by Trump’s administration, creating a new regional dynamic based on mutual anxiety over Iran and religious groups.
Lapid refrained to comment on whether Israel was coordinating with Gulf states over Iran, saying he did not want to “embarrass” his hosts by remarking on a neighbor while in the UAE, but noted that Israel was worried about the negotiations on the nuclear deal.
Gulf states have called for a durable and stronger deal that also addresses Tehran’s missiles program and its support for regional proxies, which Iran denies.
During his two-day visit, Lapid inaugurated Israel’s temporary embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai.
Israel and the UAE said they had begun talks on a free trade agreement in a statement reported by state news agency WAM. The two countries have previously signed agreements on tourism, investment, and cooperation in various fields, from energy to technology.
Lapid told WAM that Israel-UAE trade in the ten months since normalization exceeded $675 million and that he expected more deals to take place.
The UAE has stated that the accords, which challenged the decades-old allegiance to the Palestinian issue as a major driver of Arab policy, would ultimately benefit the Palestinian people.