Israeli opposition leader made secret visit to UAE

Avi Gabbay (Laliv G

Leader of the Israeli Labor Party Avi Gabbay secretly visited the United Arab Emirates in December and met with senior government officials, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.

The visit last month comes among a series of recent steps by Arab regimes to embrace Israel.

Gabbay arrived in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on 2 December on a commercial flight from Amman, accompanied by Portuguese-Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman.

Cymerman was reportedly involved in the talks, which focused on Trump’s so-called peace plan and Iran.

While Gabbay is nominally the leader of the opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government, he shares many of its stridently anti-Arab views and supports Israeli colonization of the occupied West Bank.

Israel and the UAE have no formal diplomatic ties, but their covert collaboration dates back to the 1990s.

More recently, their alliance has been moving from the shadows into the open.

Gabbay met with Arab leaders

The visit was reportedly arranged by a Moroccan citizen with ties to UAE officials, who secured formal invitations for Gabbay and Cymerman to visit the country.

Gabbay returned to Israel on 4 December and met with Mossad director Yossi Cohen to brief him on what was discussed.

The Mossad is Israel’s notorious spying and assassination agency.

“The same Moroccan mediator has organized several meetings between Gabbay and senior figures in the Arab world,” Israel’s Channel 10 stated.

The channel added that Gabbay met with King Abdullah of Jordan and Palestinian political analyst Hussein Agha, who managed a channel of secret talks between Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu between 2012 and 2014.

Will Netanyahu go to Riyadh?

Saudi Arabia has been paving the way for normalization between Arab states and Israel, with a mutual enmity towards Iran at the core of this warming relationship.

The Saudi-Israeli embrace has become even tighter in recent months, as Israel has lent its political and diplomatic muscle to shore up international support for Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler directly implicated in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Don’t be surprised if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soon visits Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” a Wall Street Journal article stated this week, floating a clear trial balloon.

In October, Netanyahu visited Oman and met its ruler Sultan Qaboos, a step that the Gulf state would not likely have taken without Saudi blessing.

Kuwait’s hesitance

Meanwhile, Kuwaiti journalist Fajer Alsaeed called for full Arab normalization with Israel on her Twitter account.

“I expect the new year 2019 to be a good, safe one. And on this happy occasion I would like to tell you that I strongly support normalization with the state of Israel and opening trade with it, investing Arab capital in it and opening tourism, in particular religious tourism to the al-Aqsa mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” Alsaeed tweeted.

Her tweet was celebrated by Israel’s Arabic-language propaganda Twitter account:

Alsaeed’s support for normalization with Israel is nothing new.

She has even tweeted in defense of Israel’s attacks on Gaza in the past.

The Kuwaiti government, however, does not seem to share Alsaeed’s views.

Kuwait recently refused to co-host the FIFA World Cup with Qatar in 2022 for reasons that relate to the attendance or participation of Israeli nationals in the championship.

The head of the Kuwait Football Federation, Sheikh Ahmad al-Yousef, said that it would be difficult to apply some of the main conditions of FIFA in Kuwait.

The most important of these conditions is to allow all nationalities, including Israeli ones, to enter the country and issue them visas on arrival, al-Yousef said according to Kuwaiti media.

Israeli business in Qatar

Meanwhile, two Israeli chefs are set to open restaurants in Qatar as part of a secret project, Israeli publication Mako reported.

Israeli chef Yonatan Roshfeld will open a restaurant at the Marriott Hotel in Doha, and British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi will open another in the same area.

Qatar and Israel also have no formal diplomatic ties, but the small Gulf state has been warming up to Israel in an apparent attempt to escape its regional isolation led by Saudi Arabia.

It has done so by inviting right-wing Americans and key leaders of Israel’s Washington lobby for all-expenses-paid junkets to Doha, including pro-Israel propagandist Alan Dershowitz and the head of the Zionist Organization of America Morton Klein.

Qatar donated $250,000 to the Zionist Organization of America and another extreme pro-Israel organization that funds senior Israeli military officers to go on propaganda tours.

Security cooperation

Meanwhile, Egyptian ruler Abdulfattah al-Sisi revealed recently that Israel and Egypt have been cooperating on security in the Sinai peninsula more than ever before.

“The Air Force sometimes needs to cross to the Israeli side. And that’s why we have a wide range of coordination with the Israelis,” al-Sisi, who came to power in a 2013 military coup, said on the CBS program 60 Minutes.

Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was occupied by Israel in 1967 but Israel later withdrew under the terms of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Israel also captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 War and occupies them to this day.

Senior Republicans are urging the Trump administration to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the occupied Golan Heights.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.