In the first official visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf state, Mr Lapid stressed that Israel’s new government aims to expand the process of normalising ties with the Arab world, begun by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“We are standing here today because we chose peace over war, co-operation over conflict, and the good of our children over the bad memories of the past,” Mr Lapid said. “Israel wants peace with all of its neighbours. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home and we’re here to stay, so we call on all countries in the region to recognise that and talk to us.”
Mr Lapid went out of his way to thank Mr Netanyahu, whom he called “the architect of the Abraham Accords [the normalisation agreements with the UAE and Bahrain] and who worked tirelessly to bring them about”.
Mr Netanyahu was forced to cancel trips to the UAE on four separate occasions for a variety of reasons. Eager to claim the credit for the diplomatic breakthrough signalled by the normalising of ties with the UAE, he prevented his foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi and other ministers from visiting the UAE before him.
Mr Lapid was welcomed by Emirati culture and youth minister Noura Al Kaabi, who expressed “enthusiasm over what we hope will be the first of many high-level visits”.
“In the wake of the Abraham Accords of last year our two countries have witnessed incredible strides in the political, economic and cultural fields,” she said.
“The fruits of this co-operation are numerous,” she added, citing research on the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as travel, trade, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.
Israel and the UAE established full diplomatic relations last year after the two countries signed the Abraham Accords, in a move brokered by the administration of then US president Donald Trump.
The UAE was joined by Bahrain in normalising ties with Israel, becoming the third and fourth Arab states to sign peace deals with the Jewish state, after Egypt and Jordan. Sudan and Morocco later also took moves towards normalisation, as Israel’s regional isolation began to crumble.
Israeli-Emirati bilateral trade already exceeds €300 million and more than 200,000 Israeli tourists have travelled to the UAE.
Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala Investment, also intends to invest heavily in an Israeli natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea.
An important impetus in normalising Israeli-Emirati ties was the fact that both states viewed Iran as a regional threat, and extensive clandestine security ties between the two were reportedly maintained for many years before the Abraham Accords were signed.
As part of the accords, Washington authorised the sale of 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE.