For Israel and the UAE, Divergence over Iran Proves the Durability of Normalization

January 11, 2022 | Hussain Abdul-Hussain and Shany Mor
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While the threat of a nuclear-armed and expansionist Iran played a role in bringing the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates together, Naftali Bennett’s recent visit to Abu Dhabi shows that the ties between the two go beyond a shared enemy. The UAE has made a number of conciliatory gestures to the Islamic Republic in recent months, but Bennett’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed (MBZ) evidently went off without a hitch. Hussain Abdul-Hussain and Shany Mor write:

An examination of the leaders’ joint statement after their meeting, together with a close look at whom the Israeli prime minister did and did not meet in Abu Dhabi, suggests that it is the economy, rather than security, that is pulling the two sides closer together. Bilateral trade between the two nations reached close to $800 million by the end of September. In March, the UAE announced a $10 billion fund to “invest in strategic sectors in Israel.”

Bennett’s meeting with officials in charge of industry and culture but not security and intelligence suggests that—at least publicly—the UAE and Israel do not wish to be seen as creating an anti-Iran front or alliance. True, during their one-on-one meeting, which lasted more than two hours, MBZ and Bennett must have talked about Iran. . . . While MBZ might have expressed private support for a possible Israeli strike on Iran, he must have told his guest that the UAE cannot be publicly supportive of any such action.

The UAE and Israel share many of the same concerns about Iran and many of the same commitments and strategies—but not all. They are separate countries with differing interests and differing priorities. They don’t need to have identical interests and policies on Iran for a deepening of ties, just as they did not need normalization to cooperate on the Iranian threat.

A year on from the initial agreement, and despite all the sour grapes from critics and cynics, normalization seems to be, well, the new normal.

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