Israel's Bennett in UAE for talks after controversial trade deal
Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett landed in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday for talks with President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, following a controversial free trade deal signed last month.
It is Bennett's second visit to UAE since the countries normalised relations in a widely condemned US-brokered 2020 deal and coincide with the UN atomic energy agency censuring Iran for non-cooperation.
Both countries have teamed up against Iran, as well as other regional issues, where the UAE has embarked on a campaign of suppression against pro-democracy movements. Israel, meanwhile, continues to oppress Palestinians in the occupied territories.
There was no prior announcement of the trip, which Bennett's office described as a "snap visit" that would touch on "various regional issues".
Speaking before leaving Israel, Bennett hailed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for its motion condemning Iran, approved by 30 members of the IAEA board of governors, with only Russia and China voting against.
"We see here a firm stance by the countries of the world regarding the distinction between good and evil, as they clearly state that Iran is concealing things," Bennett said, according to a statement from his office.
Concern about Iran, including its alleged nuclear programme, was widely viewed as a factor that led the UAE to forge closer ties with Israel.
Israel and the UAE established ties in September 2020 in a US-brokered deal known by them as the Abraham Accords.
The agreement was condemned by the Arab street for overturning years of regonal policy to isolate Israel due to their systemic human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan also recognised Israel in the same year.
A free trade agreement signed by the two countries last month - Israel's first with an Arab state - abolished customs duties on more than 95 percent of products exchanged between the two sides.
Two-way trade last year totalled some $900 million dollars, according to Israeli figures.
The UAE was the first Gulf country to normalise ties with Israel and only the third Arab nation to do so after Egypt and Jordan.
Talks for a free trade agreement began in November and concluded after four rounds of negotiations.
Thursday will mark Bennett's first meeting with Sheikh Mohammed since he assumed the presidency following the death of half brother Sheikh Khalifa last month.
Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed met twice last year, in Abu Dhabi and in Egypt.