Israel's Labor party leader secretly visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE), meeting with senior Emirati officials and returning to brief Israel's Mossad chief.
Avi Gabbay was in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi from 2-4 December, meeting with three Emiratis believed to be either high-ranking officials or ministers, the Times of Israel reported, citing a broadcast by Israel's Channel 10 yesterday evening.
A number of in-depth details about the trip have been revealed. Gabbay is thought to have flown to Abu Dhabi on a commercial flight via the Jordanian capital Amman, accompanied by former Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman. The Times of Israel explains that Cymerman is "running for a spot on the Labor slate for the upcoming April 9 Knesset elections," adding that he was also involved in organising the pair's visit to Abu Dhabi.
It is thought the visit was coordinated by a "Moroccan national who has ties with senior Emirati officials," with Gabbay protected by local Emirati security forces upon his arrival. However, it seems that Gabbay's visit took place in the full knowledge of the Israeli security apparatus, with the official reporting to Yossi Cohen – the head of Israel's national intelligence agency Mossad –– immediately upon his return.
Gabbay is believed to have relayed the details of his meeting with Emirati officials to Cohen, with the Israel-Palestine conflict, US President Donald Trump's so-called "deal of the century" and the regional threat posed by Iran all topics thought to have been discussed.
It also seems that this is not the first time Gabbay has visited an Arab state. According to the Times of Israel, the Moroccan national involved in arranging December's meeting had "previously arranged other meetings for Gabbay with senior Arab officials". Channel 10 also suggested this, saying that the visit was only the latest in a string of meetings Gabbay held with Arab officials over the past year, many of which have not been reported.
Gabbay was not the first Israeli establishment figure to visit the UAE in 2018, with Israel's Culture and Sports Minister visiting the Gulf state in October. Miri Regev attended the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament after being invited to support the Israeli national team that had been granted permission to participate, despite the fact that the two countries do not hold formal diplomatic relations and Israeli passports are not valid for travel to the UAE.
Just days after Regev's visit to Abu Dhabi, Israel's Communication Minister Ayoub Kara spoke at a conference in Dubai. Kara told the audience – which had gathered for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference – that "peace and security in every state […] with economic and scientific progress is what guarantees a future for the coming generations". In a tweet following the event Kara wrote: "It is amazing and heartwarming to receive thunderous applause at the ITU conference in Dubai. I would like to thank the Government and people of the United Arab Emirates of Dubai for their warm hospitality."
Israeli-Emirati relations reached new heights in 2018, against the backdrop of Israel's efforts to foster normalisation with a number of Arab countries. In August, Israeli journalist Edy Cohen 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. Cohen 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 as early as 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 Jewish-Americans to be taken to Abu Dhabi to meet with Emirati officials and establish an intelligence-sharing relationship.