Prior to August 13, 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not officially recognize Israel and those who carried the Israeli nationality could not legally enter the country. A lot has changed since then.
In November 2015, UAE gave Israel official permission to establish a diplomatic office in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, with the intention to facilitate the UAE’s membership in the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
In October 2018, Miri Regev, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sports, paid the first state visit by an Israeli official to Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. During that visit, Israel’s national anthem was played in the international judo tournament, which moved Regev to tears, and the team was also able to compete under its national flag for the first time.
This came a year after the tournament organizers in Abu Dhabi banned the Israeli flag and national anthem, a short-lived protest, as the International Judo Federation demanded all athletes be treated equally, or the city will be at risk of no longer hosting the tournament.
In December 2019, the White House hosted a secret trilateral meeting between Israel and the UAE against Iran. This was set up in order to normalize relations between Israel and Arab states, in which National Security Advisor, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and the UAE’s ambassador, discussed the possibility of a nonaggression pact.
Even with these improved ties with an Arab country, Israel continued to participate in annexation, to which the Emirates’ ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, responded with an Op-Ed titled “It’s Either Annexation or Normalization.”
In August 2020, Israel and the UAE agreed to the “full normalization of relations” in a phone call between former President Donald Trump, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
Israel now has full diplomatic relations with three Arab states, including Egypt and Jordan. And Israel’s control of the West Bank is what is hindering its diplomatic ties with other Arab countries.
Following this historic step of normalization, Israel stated that it would suspend declaring sovereignty over areas of the West Bank until 2024. However, when the Emirati ambassador tweeted “The UAE will remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people – for their dignity, their rights, and their own sovereign state. They must benefit from normalization. We will forcefully advocate for these ends.”
“Israel wants peace with its neighbors – with all its neighbors. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home…we’re here to stay. We call on all the countries of the region to recognize that and to come to talk to us,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, during the inauguration of the Israeli embassy in the UAE on June 29.
It can be assumed that normalizing ties secures Abu Dhabi, and for Israel, there are economic benefits to being accepted by an Arab state. Shortly after the agreement, known as the Abraham Accords, the Trump administration authorized the sale of 50 advanced F-35 fighters jets to the UAE, giving them military leverage. This may further push the narrative that investments between the UAE and Israel may serve as the drive behind the signing of the accord.