Israel’s New Foreign Minister Gets Muted Reception on First UAE Visit

Israel’s new foreign minister was given a subdued reception in the United Arab Emirates Tuesday as he began the first high-level visit by an official from the Jewish state since the two countries normalized ties less than a year ago.

Yair Lapid’s two-day trip was intended to deepen those fledging ties but the website of the UAE’s official WAM news agency didn’t immediately appear to carry a report on his arrival, and access for international media was strictly limited. His counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, wasn’t at the airport to meet Lapid, with the job delegated to a junior minister. The two did meet later.

“Israel would like to tout this as a historic visit, but evidently the UAE wants to keep it as low profile as possible and treat it like any other visit,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a UAE political science professor. “The UAE’s relationship with Israel is there, but this isn’t the time to brag after Gaza.”

An 11-day conflict in May between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip killed an estimated 232 Palestinians and 12 Israelis and spurred widespread anger in the Arab world, complicating the emerging relationship.

Lapid inaugurated Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi, one of the steps enabled by last year’s normalization deal brokered by the Trump administration. The countries share a desire to combat Iran’s influence in the region, and have opened direct flights, signed a taxation treaty and touted the potential for cooperation on security, investments and technological innovation.

Lapid became foreign minister after he successfully cobbled together a coalition to unseat former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s slated to become premier in two years under a rotation agreement.

Netanyahu canceled a visit to the UAE in March as his flight became entangled in a spat with Jordan.

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