Israeli and United Arab Emirates officials met secretly in the US in December to discuss a possible non-aggression pact between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi.
News of the get together was broken by Axios and Israel’s Channel 13 News, and represents the latest sign of under-the-radar security cooperation between Israel and the Arab world, despite the UAE not recognising the State of Israel.
Official contact is virtually non-existent owing to a lack of diplomatic or economic relations, but the Washington meeting on 17 December was “certainly welcome,” according to a White House source.
It included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and the UAE’s Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba, who is a trusted confidante of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
Sunni Muslim states such as the UAE have long felt threatened by the ambitions and foreign interventions of Iran, the region’s Shia superpower, so have found common cause with Israel, which also sees an enemy in Tehran.
In public, Emirati leaders seem to be trying to precipitate a gentle thaw, described by UK-based Muslim author Ed Husain recently as a “religious glasnost”.
This includes Dubai’s new synagogue and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s promise last year to build an Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi, comprising a synagogue, a church and a mosque within a single complex.
But in the area of security cooperation even Netanyahu has been left surprised at progress, saying recently that “what is happening in practice with Arab states has never happened in our history, even when we signed peace agreements”.
The Wall Street Journal had earlier reported two previous 2019 meetings between senior Israeli and UAE officials, who want to work together in areas such as deterring cyber-attacks, protecting international shipping and stemming the flow of illegal arms trafficking.