Israel’s top diplomat will travel to the United Arab Emirates next week in the first official visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf state since the two countries established diplomatic relations last year. Yair Lapid, who was sworn in last week under a new government, will be hosted by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan from June 29-30, the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement.
Mr Lapid will become the first Israeli minister to pay an official visit to the Gulf state since Israel, the UAE and Bahrain signed a historic deal to normalise ties nine months ago. During the two-day trip, Mr Lapid will meet his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and inaugurate the Israeli embassy and consulate office in Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively. The visit is important not only for its symbolic significance but also because it will be the first official engagement between the two sides since the Israel-Gaza conflict in May. At least 256 people were killed in Gaza, according to the UN, and 13 people were killed in Israel during the hostilities. The 11-day conflict was the first test for the newly forged relationship – especially given that the UAE leadership had billed the normalisation deal as an opportunity to halt Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, which were vehemently opposed by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu had planned to visit the UAE ahead of a March 23 election but cancelled the trip amid a dispute with Jordan. Business relations between Israel and the UAE have flourished, and the two countries signed a major tax treaty on May 31.