DUBAI (Reuters) – The first ever official United Arab Emirates delegation to Israel took off on Tuesday as the two countries look to broaden cooperation after normalizing ties last month under a US-brokered accord, forged largely over shared fears of Iran.
An Etihad Airways plane carrying Emirati government officials, with US dignitaries accompanying them, left the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, headed to Ben-Gurion Airport, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
Israeli officials said the visit would be restricted to the airport due to coronavirus concerns.
The UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain in September became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign deals to establish formal ties with Israel, a move that Washington and its allies have said would foster regional peace and stability but which has been rejected by the Palestinians.
The Emirati delegation is led by Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq al-Mari and Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid al-Tayer, a UAE foreign ministry spokeswoman tweeted.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Middle East envoy Ari Berkowitz are joining them on the trip, after having accompanied an Israeli delegation to Bahrain on Sunday for a signing ceremony to formalise ties.
Israel and the UAE have already signed several commercial deals since mid-August, when they first announced they would establish full relations.
Israeli officials said the two sides were expected to sign a mutual visa-exemption agreement – Israel’s first with an Arab country.
Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Dan Williams and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Heavens and John Stonestreet