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Israeli Prime Minister meets UAE Crown Prince in Abu Dhabi in historic visit

By Andrew Carey and Hadas Gold, CNN

For the first time in history an Israeli Prime Minister has made an official visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed at his private palace in Abu Dhabi on Monday, according to Bennett’s office.

Their meeting, and a shared lunch, went on two hours longer than the original time allotted. Bennett said afterwards he enjoyed “meaningful, in-depth and straightforward talks” about “the region, our economy and technology.”

The event marks a symbolic historic change in the relations between the two countries, 15 months after they signed a normalization agreement at the White House.

Just a few years ago, Israelis were not even allowed to enter the UAE. Now the Prime Minister was welcomed with an official honor guard at the airport.

According to WAM, the Emirates’ state-run news agency, the two leaders discussed areas of “bilateral cooperation,” such as “agriculture, food security, renewable energy, advanced technology, health and other vital sectors.”

Bennett had earlier highlighted growing trade ties between his country and the UAE in an interview with WAM.

But there was no mention in the agency’s write-up of the interview of tensions with Iran.

The Israeli leader mentioned cyber security, health, education and aviation as four areas where the two countries were enjoying fruitful trade and investment, WAM wrote.

In a video statement from Abu Dhabi airport as he prepared to leave the Emirates after less than 24 hours on the ground, Bennett said he believed the relationship between the two countries could “set an example of how we can make peace in the Middle East.”

And in an accompanying statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, it was announced that Crown Prince Bin Zayed had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, though no date for any trip was mentioned.

The two leaders spent about two and a half hours in a face-to-face meeting, the statement said, adding that, “most of the visit dealt with building the connection and personal acquaintance between the leaders, who spoke openly and emphasized their desire to strengthen peace between the two countries and build economic relations.”

Although neither leader mentioned it by name, Iran is top of mind for both countries, a shared security concern.

Israel’s government sees Iran and its nuclear ambitions as an existential threat, and continues to declare that they are ready to take matters into their own hands to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. They see the Emiratis as an important strategic partner in the face of Iranian aggression.

For the Emiratis, the relationship with their neighbor is more nuanced. Last week, a UAE top security official paid a visit to Tehran, meeting with new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the first such visit by an Emirati official in five years.

A spokesperson for Bennett declined to comment on Israeli media reports that the Prime Minister presented the crown prince with evidence of Iran deploying militias and UAV units, only saying “they discussed a wide variety of issues.”

Iran condemned Bennett’s visit, with the spokesman for the country’s Foreign Ministry calling the trip “detrimental” during a press conference, according to IRNA, a state-run news outlet.

“These measures are detrimental to security of the region and its prudence’s and interests,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

“Welcoming the prime minister of an illegitimate regime which has been the cause, the origin and the agent of insecurity, tension and waging war for over 70 years in the Arab and Islamic countries, will remain, recorded and registered in the memory of Palestinian nation, people of the region and all freedom-lovers in the world,” he added.

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CNN’s Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Valentina DiDonato contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Europe/Mideast/Africa

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