Israel’s president has called on more countries to join its pact with Arab countries and said his country supports the United Arab Emirates’ security needs.
Isaac Herzog is making his first state visit to the Gulf state, two years after the countries forged diplomatic relations under the Abraham Accords, agreements that were brokered by the United States.
He arrived on Sunday and early on Monday morning, decided to continue with his visit after the Emirati defence ministry said it intercepted and destroyed a Houthi missile, the debris from which fell on an uninhabited area.
Earlier, on Sunday, Mr Herzog had discussed security and bilateral relationship with the UAE’s rule, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
On a visit to Dubai’s Expo 2020 world fair on Monday, Israel’s president, who holds a ceremonial role in the country’s parliamentary democracy, said: “I hope and I believe that more and more nations will soon follow the UAE lead and join the Abraham Accords.”
The UAE, by signing up to the Abraham Accords, was the first normalise relations between an Arab country and Israel since Jordan in 1994. Since then, Arab League members Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have reached similar agreements with Israel.
Before the accords, it was impossible to telephone Israel from the UAE and there were no direct flights. Most Israelis couldn’t visit the country.
En route to the UAE, Mr Herzog’s plane flew over Saudi Arabia, which the Israeli president said was “a very moving moment”.
Riyadh has yet to follow its Gulf neighbours in solidifying ties with Israel, but Israeli officials express hope this will happen.
The US-brokered normalisation agreements between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel were signed at the White House in September 2020, but have angered the Palestinians.
Increased tensions amid historic talks
In the last two weeks, Houthi rebels have twice attacked the UAE with drones and missiles.
Overnight, the Emirati defence minister said a missile was intercepted at 12.20am (local time) and destroyed.
Both the Emirates and the US condemned the attack.
The UAE did not say where the missile came down and what happened is difficult to verify as the country’s top prosecutor has threatened anyone, including journalists, who films or posts images of incidents like the missile and drone attacks, that they would face criminal charges in the UAE.
Some 30 minutes after the attack, the Emirates’ defence ministry released black-and-white footage it said showed the destruction of a ballistic missile launcher in Yemen’s al Jawf.
The Houthi group, meanwhile, said it had fired a number of ballistic missiles at Abu Dhabi and also launched several drones at Dubai.
We condemn the latest Houthi missile attack on Abu Dhabi. While Israel’s president is visiting the UAE to build bridges and promote stability across the region, the Houthis continue to launch attacks that threaten civilians.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) January 31, 2022
Yahya Sari, the military spokesman for the Iran-aligned Houthis, said in a television warning that the headquarters of international businesses in the UAE will be targeted in the coming period.
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition which entered Yemen’s conflict in March 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government against the Houthis.
Read more: UN condemns airstrike on temporary detention centre in Yemen that killed at least 82 people
Despite the attack, Mr Herzog’s office said he would continue with his trip.
“The president has been briefed on the details of the incident,” a statement by Mr Herzog’s office said. “There was no danger posed nor is there danger posed to the president and his delegation.”
Mr Herzog’s diplomatic trip comes more than a month after Naftali Bennett became Israel’s first prime minister to visit the UAE.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter the US “warmly welcomed” the meeting between Mr Herzog and Sheikh Mohammed.