DUBAI, Oct 20 (Reuters) – The first ever official United Arab Emirates delegation to Israel set off on Tuesday after the two countries normalised ties last month under a U.S.-brokered accord forged largely over shared fears of Iran.
An Etihad Airways plane carrying Emirati government officials, with U.S. dignitaries accompanying them, left the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, headed to Ben-Gurion Airport, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
Israeli officials said the five-hour visit would be restricted to the airport due to coronavirus concerns.
The UAE and fellow [Persian] 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.
“This is an historical moment for the UAE country and Israel and we are looking forward to salaam (peace) … in the region,” one of the pilots could be heard saying in a video posted on Twitter by U.S. Middle East envoy Ari Berkowitz.
Berkowitz and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are accompanying the Emirati delegation, which is being led by Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq al-Mari and Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid al-Tayer, according to a UAE foreign ministry spokeswoman.
The U.S. officials had on Sunday joined an Israeli delegation to Bahrain 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, John Stonestreet and Philippa Fletcher)