Israel seeks to extend new Gulf ties to all Middle East, says Lapid

Israel's new foreign minister said on Wednesday his landmark visit to the United Arab Emirates was just the start of a road to wider peace in the Middle East, reaching out to Arab states still wary of normalizing ties.

Yair Lapid, the first Israeli cabinet minister to visit the Gulf state since the countries forged ties last year, also reiterated Israel's concern about the Iran nuclear deal being negotiated in Vienna.

The trip comes amid unease in Israel and Arab capitals about U.S. efforts to re-enter a 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers, which then-President Donald Trump quit in 2018 in a move backed by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.

"This visit isn't the end of the road to peace, it is just the beginning," he told reporters. "Our hand is outstretched ... I hope this visit is the first of many and that together with our new friends we continue to make history in the entire region."

The UAE and Bahrain normalized ties with Israel under the so-called "Abraham Accords" brokered by Trump's administration, creating a new regional dynamic based on mutual concern over Iran and Islamist groups. Sudan and Morocco followed suit.

Lapid declined to comment on whether Israel was coordinating with Gulf states over Iran, saying he did not want to "embarrass" his hosts by remarking on a neighbor while in the UAE but noted his country was worried about the nuclear deal.

Gulf states have called for a stronger deal of longer duration that also addresses Tehran's missiles programme and support for regional proxies that Iran has denied giving.

During his two-day visit, Lapid inaugurated Israel's temporary embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai.

Israel and the UAE said they had begun talks on a free trade agreement in a statement carried on state news agency WAM. They have previously signed agreements on tourism, investment and cooperation in fields from energy to technology.

Lapid told WAM Israel-UAE trade in the ten months since normalization exceeded $675 million and he expected more deals.

(c) Reuters


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