By ISABEL DEBRE, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Israel’s iconic president traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday in the first official visit by the country’s head of state, the latest sign of deepening ties between the two nations as tensions mount in the region.
The United Arab Emirates and Israel normalized relations in the fall of 2020, as part of a series of US-brokered diplomatic agreements between Israel and Arab states that had long avoided formal relations with Israel over the past of its decades-old conflict with the Palestinians.
President Isaac Herzog’s office said he would meet senior officials, including the powerful Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the Emirates, as well as members of the small but growing Jewish expatriate community in the country. He was also due to visit Expo 2020, the world’s fair in Dubai, where Israel held a series of events at its national pavilion.
The president plays a largely ceremonial role as a national unifier in Israel’s parliamentary system, where the prime minister holds the most power. Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paid his first official visit to the Gulf Arab sheikh and discussed strengthening relations on multiple fronts with Sheikh Mohammed.
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Shortly before takeoff, Herzog said his visit was intended to bring “a blessing of peace and a message of peace to the entire region.”
The spectacle of Israeli-Emirati cooperation comes at a delicate time for the Middle East.
Fighting in Yemen’s seven-year civil war has intensified, widening to reach Emirati soil for the first time this month. Iran-backed Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-led coalition have claimed airstrikes on Abu Dhabi – one that killed three workers in an industrial zone and another that was intercepted and dispersed shrapnel missiles over the capital.
The attacks shocked residents, shattering the pervasive sense of security in the region’s globalized business hub. The Houthis threatened further strikes this week.
Meanwhile, talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran to curb the rapid expansion of Tehran’s nuclear program broke down on Friday, with European officials saying talks were approaching “the final stage”. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the landmark nuclear deal nearly four years ago in a move hailed by Israel and America’s Gulf Arab allies and reimposed tough sanctions on Iran.
Iran’s shared enmity and mutual fears over its nuclear program have prompted the UAE and Israel to formalize relations after years of clandestine ties.
Palestinian leaders have condemned the normalization deal as a betrayal of their cause for statehood.
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