Israel's Bennett holds talks in UAE after Iran snub, trade deal

By: AFP
Published: 08:39 PM, 9 Jun, 2022
Israel's Bennett holds talks in UAE after Iran snub, trade deal
Caption: Israel's Bennett holds talks in UAE after Iran snub, trade deal.
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Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held talks with the leader of the United Arab Emirates on Thursday during a surprise visit, a day after a formal rebuke of Iran by the UN's nuclear watchdog.

Bennett's second trip to the UAE, which normalised relations with Israel in 2020, also comes after the two countries struck a free-trade deal last month and as his governing coalition faces a serious challenge from the right-wing opposition.

There was no prior announcement of the trip, which Bennett's office described as a "snap visit" at the invitation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE's newly appointed president.

Speaking before leaving Israel, Bennett hailed the International Atomic Energy Agency for its motion condemning Iran's lack of cooperation with the UN body.

Approved by 30 members of the IAEA board with only Russia and China voting against, the motion was the first criticising Iran since 2020, and came as talks flounder on reviving an accord aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"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 ties with Israel under the US-brokered deals known as the Abraham Accords.

The UAE was the first Gulf country to normalise relations with Israel and only the third Arab nation to do so after Egypt and Jordan.

Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed discussed investment, food security and "other vital sectors", the UAE's official WAM news agency said, without giving details.

Bennett also expressed his condolences over the death last month of Sheikh Khalifa, the UAE's long-ailing ruler who was replaced by Sheikh Mohammed, already the de facto leader.

The free-trade agreement signed in May -- 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. Talks for the free-trade agreement began in November and concluded after four rounds of negotiations.

Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed met twice last year, in Abu Dhabi in December and in Egypt. 

On Monday Bennett's government, which recently lost its majority in parliament, suffered a key opposition defeat -- over upholding Israeli law in settlements in the occupied West Bank -- that called its stability into question.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.