How did Israel and the UAE get to normalising relations?

Back in October 2018, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev became the first Israeli to visit Abu Dhabi in an unprecedented official state visit.

She witnessed for the first time the Israeli national anthem being played at a judo tournament and later visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where she wrote “I wish a good life and peace for all” in Hebrew in the visitor’s book.

Regev, a former chief Israeli military spokeswoman, is known to Palestinians and critics for her more egregious statements, such as describing African migrants in Israel as a “cancer”, and calling on her government last year to revive its policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders.

Her visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was a clear sign of the UAE working to push its covert relations with Israel out in the open.

Since Regev’s visit, the Israeli Communications Minister, Ayoub Kara, as well as Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz have also travelled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

“I will continue to work with the prime minister to push for the policy of normalisation that we’re leading based on Israel’s capabilities in the issues of security, intelligence and different civil opportunities,” Katz said at the time of his visit in July 2019.

According to Adam Entous, a reporter for The New Yorker, the think-tank and government-backed Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research was established in 1994 for academic research but later “became a conduit for contacts with Israel”.

The think-tank was the perfect cover to establish Israeli communications, and was born out of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s (MBZ) desire to buy fighter jets from the United States in 1990, and had dreaded Israeli objections to the sale.

Sandra Charles, who was working for bin Zayed at the time and was a former official in the George HW Bush administration, arranged an off the record meeting between Emirati academic Jamal S al-Suwaidi – who later established the think-tank – and Israeli diplomat Jeremy Issacharoff. This led to then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to give the green light for the US fighter jets to be sold to the UAE, where a “sense of trust” was built between Israel and Abu Dhabi, Entous reported US officials as telling him.

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