Israel's Ambassador to the US had a dinner date with his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday, in the latest sign of strengthening ties between the two countries.
Israel's Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, sat with Yousef Al-Otaiba, the Emirati envoy to the US, at the annual dinner of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs held in Washington DC yesterday. The pair were seen talking amiably while they listened to a speech made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Egyptian Ambassador to the US, Yasser Reda, was also at the same table.
As Haaretz points out, "it is rare for officials from Arab states that don't have formal ties with Israel to be seen in public with Israeli officials". However, this is not the first time Al-Otaiba has been seen sharing a table with senior Israeli figures. In March he was spotted at a restaurant in Georgetown, a neighbourhood of Washington, having dinner with the Bahraini Ambassador to the US. Al-Otaiba reportedly heard that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was having dinner in the same restaurant and invited him to join his table, Haaretz explains.
Like other Gulf countries, the UAE does not formally recognise Israel and maintains no official diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. However, yesterday's dinner date will be seen as the latest evidence of strengthening ties and normalisation of relations between the two countries.
In September it emerged that the UAE would allow the Israeli national anthem to be played and its flag to be flown at an upcoming judo tournament to be held in the sheikhdom. The Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, which is slated to take place from 25-27 October, will see competitors from Israel and Arab nations compete side by side and Israeli judoists allowed to sport their national insignia. Israel's Culture and Sports Minister, Miri Regev, has been invited to attend the event, despite the fact that Israeli passport holders are not permitted to travel to the UAE.
In August, an Israeli journalist claimed that an Emirati pilot participated in the bombing of Palestinian targets in the besieged Gaza Strip during his training on Israeli Air Force F-35 fighters in July. Edy Cohen, the journalist who made the claims, also accused Dubai's Deputy Chairman of Police and Public Security, General Dhahi Khalfan, of being complicit in assassinating Hamas leader Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010.
In June, an exposé by the New Yorker revealed that Israel and the UAE have been engaged in secret normalisation talks since the 1990s. The report disclosed that "the secret relationship between Israel and the UAE can be traced back to a series of meetings in a nondescript office in Washington D.C after the signing of the Oslo Accords." These meetings discussed the possibility of the UAE purchasing F-16 fighter jets from the US which are known to be comprised of Israeli technology. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed, also gave his blessing for delegations of influential American Jews to be brought to Abu Dhabi to meet with Emirati officials and establish an intelligence-sharing relationship.