If you would’ve told me just a few years ago that the Prime Minister of Israel would make an unannounced visit to an Arab country, I would’ve asked you what you had been smoking. The Abraham Accords appear to be passing the test of time.
Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to the United Arab Emirates Thursday morning to meet with Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ), the UAE’s president, to discuss “regional issues.”
The trip was kept off the public radar until just before Bennett headed to Abu Dhabi. The meeting comes as Iran announced that it would be shutting off dozens of surveillance cameras used by the International Atomic Energy Agency (the UN’s nuclear watchdog organization), sinking any faint hopes world powers had of renewing the Iranian nuclear agreement. I’m shocked! (Not really.)
Israel has said for the last year or so that it would be ready to defend itself against a nuclear Iran, not counting on any agreement between the Islamic Republic and world leaders. Last month, Israel’s military conducted full-scale airstrike maneuvers simulating a strike on Iran intended to permanently shut down its nuclear program.
The Jewish state has also tirelessly reached out to its Arab neighbors that face a similar threat from a nuclear Iran. The UAE is quickly becoming one of Israel’s strongest partners in the region.
MBZ has been the de-facto ruler of the Gulf State since his half-brother, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan had a stroke in 2014. MBZ officially came to power last month after the 73-year-old sheikh passed away. This is the third time Bennett and MBZ have met in recent months, and he hailed MBZ a “man of vision, a brave leader.”
“Today, we will build another floor in the special connection taking shape between two countries for the growth and security of two nations,” Bennett said before getting on the plane to the UAE.
The UAE foreign minister and an honor guard greeted Bennett at the airport. He then was scheduled to meet with MBZ privately at the palace, where they were expected to talk about “regional issues”—more than likely that means Iran, its proxies, the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and other issues that are affecting the Middle East.
As he left for Abu Dhabi, Bennett praised the IAEA for censuring Iran for its defiance, pointing out that the world can now see the “true Iran.”
US Secretary Antony Blinken cautioned Iran about the steps it was taking, saying that a return to a nuclear deal was not out of the question, but it was in jeopardy if Iran continued on the path of noncompliance.
“The only outcome of such a path will be a deepening nuclear crisis and further economic and political isolation for Iran,” Blinken said.
Iran hit back hard at the IAEA censure, insisting it is not doing anything wrong, calling on the IAEA to “come to their senses” and accusing them of showing “inappropriate behavior while Iran continues to cooperate.”
Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi was even more combative.
“Do you assume that we withdraw because of resolutions? In the name of God and in the name of the nation, Iran will not withdraw from its stance a single step.”
I was listening to my friend Joel Rosenberg speak the other day at a conference. Joel is a brilliant thinker on these issues. He told the audience that you have to understand the Iranian leadership. Sanctions do not bother them. Their people suffering does not bother them. They believe that they are on a mission from God to destroy Israel. If they have to suffer in the process, they are willing to be martyrs and make their people martyrs.
And combative activities are escalating at Israel’s northern border—near Syria and Lebanon—where Iranian proxy Hezbollah continues to gather forces and weapons. This week, Israeli tanks destroyed a Syrian outpost illegally constructed in the Golan Heights demilitarized zone. The Israel Defense Forces also discovered a Hezbollah observation post along the Lebanese border masquerading as an environmental activist group.