Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid heads to UAE for first state visit

The new Israeli foreign minister arrived in Dubai on Tuesday, marking the start of a high-level visit by an Israeli official to the Gulf Arab states since their normalization last year.According to the Israeli foreign ministry Yair Lapid will inaugurate Israel's Embassy in Abu Dhabi. He will also meet with Emirati officials, including Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and attend a trade expo, where Israeli companies display technology.It was described by the ministry as an historic visit to the Gulf Kingdom. The Emirati state-linked media were the only ones allowed to access Abu Dhabi's embassy opening.After the signing of the Abraham Accords, which was U.S.-brokered, diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE were established last year.Bahrain joined the UAE in normalizing relations with Israel. This made the UAE and Bahrain the third and fourth Arab countries to sign peace agreements with Israel after Egypt and Jordan.Since the signing of the White House normalization agreement, Israel and UAE have already signed numerous trade and cooperation agreements. Bilateral trade is expected to exceed $354 million in the next nine months. According to the Foreign Ministry, more than 200,000 Israeli tourists visited the UAE.After Israel's new government was inaugurated earlier this month, Lapid assumed office as Israel's foreign minister. The leader of the Yesh Atid party struck a power-sharing agreement with Naftali Bennett. He became Israel's prime minister after leading a coalition of eight different parties that included Jewish ultranationalists and a small Islamist group.Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli Prime Minister, had repeatedly postponed and scheduled a visit in Abu Dhabi because of the coronavirus pandemic. But, due to a diplomatic dispute with Jordan, he ultimately cancelled the visit before the March 23 elections.According to Israeli media reports, Netanyahu forbade his government members from going to the UAE until he could make a state visit.After Lapid left for Abu Dhabi, Lior Haiat, spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry, told reporters that bilateral cooperation has been at an unprecedented pace between the two countries.Haiat stated that there have been years of unofficial relations between Israel, the UAE and other countries. Now, we are enjoying the benefits of the infrastructure for peace we have built over the past decades.Before normalizing relations last January, Israel and the UAE had maintained close security ties for many years. This was due to shared concerns about Iran's arch-enemy in the region.