Last November Haaretz reported that Israel plans to open a rather unconventional mission in Abu Dhabi, which will mark Israel’s first diplomatic presence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The move is symbolic of the ongoing metamorphosis in the Middle East’s political landscape. Israel’s extended olive branch to the UAE occurs within a complicated geopolitical context, in which some traditional alliances are strained, several states are exploring new partnerships and various actors are seizing upon newly generated opportunities in the region.
The report did not surprise analysts monitoring Tel Aviv’s recent overtures to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In 2009 Israel supported the UAE’s bid to become the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is now an Abu Dhabi-based international agency established to help countries use renewable energy. In 2014 Israel’s Infrastructure Minister declared his goal of establishing a permanent Israeli mission to IRENA. Presumably, this was due to Tel Aviv’s interest in establishing a diplomatic foothold in the GCC.
Despite Abu Dhabi’s support for Palestinian statehood and refusal to recognize the Jewish State, Israel and the UAE have in recent years found themselves aligned on several regional issues. Their common concerns generally stem from expanding Iranian influence in the Arab world and the rise of Sunni fundamentalist groups in the region, as well as the Obama Administration’s handling of both of these developments. Within this context, Israel sees itself as having a vested interest in making a diplomatic overture to the Emirates.
As the mission will be under the auspices of IRENA, the UAE will not need to formally recognize Israel. Emirati officials were quick to emphasize this point.
Shortly after the Israeli daily reported the opening of this diplomatic mission, the UAE Foreign Ministry’s communications director stated that “any agreement between IRENA and Israel does not represent any change in the position of the UAE or its relations with Israel.”