Iran At Top Of Agenda During Bennett’s Surprise Trip To UAE, Say Observers

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a surprise visit to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday morning at the invitation of its president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. While the trip caught some observers off-guard, others said recent developments concerning Iran were clearly the impetus.

“The immediate trigger is the decision made by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] condemning Iran for not cooperating with the agency on a number of matters,” Eytan Gilboa, professor of political science and a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), told JNS.

“The No. 1 item on the agenda will be how to perhaps exploit that decision for mutual benefit,” said Gilboa. “The urgent matter is what to do with the United States and the West.”

The 35-member board of the IAEA voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to criticize Iran for “insufficient” cooperation regarding uranium traces found at three undeclared locations. Thirty countries voted for the resolution. Russia and China opposed while India, Libya and Pakistan abstained. Iran condemned the resolution on Thursday as “political and unconstructive.”

Bennett referred to the IAEA resolution just before departing for the UAE, saying it “clearly states that Iran is continuing to play games, and is continuing to conceal and hide.”

In a press conference on Thursday, IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi revealed that Iran was removing 27 surveillance cameras used by the IAEA to monitor its nuclear sites, meaning that the U.N. watchdog group’s inspectors wouldn’t be able to keep tabs on Iranian efforts to enrich uranium.

Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told JNS: “This is dramatic. And I guess this is the background of the visit: Iran, Iran, Iran.”

‘There are all kinds of developments’

According to Gilboa, Bennett and Bin Zayed may try to develop “some concrete actions” in terms of a new strategy given that American and European efforts have failed to bring about a new Iran nuclear deal.

“The West concluded that Iran is not interested in a deal and that the negotiations, as some of them suspected, were designed just to buy time in order for Iran to continue with its nuclear project at an accelerated speed,” he said.

Israel wants to pressure Iran, but the Biden administration has avoided all pressure in the hopes of reaching a deal. Now that a deal doesn’t appear in the offing, the United States may be more receptive to adopting a pressure campaign. “The question is what kind of pressure you’re going to apply. All kinds of options have to be discussed, and Israel does not want to appear as the only country to exert pressure on the Biden administration,” said Gilboa.

Bennett will most surely also update Bin Zayed on his recent meeting with the IAEA’s Grossi, who visited Jerusalem on June 3. “Grossi came to obtain information because Israel has the best intelligence information. … I assume he also shared with Israel all kinds of ideas about what to do in the present situation,” said Gilboa, adding that Bin Zayed will want to learn the details. “Remember, this visit came at the invitation of Bin Zayed.”

For his part, the UAE leader will want an update on Israel’s efforts against Iran, which has shifted away from attacking Iran’s proxies to striking Iran directly on its own territory. “This is what Bennett said, ‘We are going to hit the head of the snake,’ ” noted Gilboa.

There is one more item likely to be on the agenda, say observers, and that is U.S. President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Israel. Israel and the UAE will want to discuss matters related to Biden’s Middle East visit, in which a trip to Saudi Arabia is included.

“There were talks of perhaps, at minimum, establishing a new air-defense system between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the members of the Abraham Accords,” said Gilboa. “There were also some rumors about perhaps Saudi Arabia joining officially the Accords.”

“There are all kinds of developments that the two leaders have to discuss,” he added. “And I think the urgency here is because of the timing and the need, perhaps, to better coordinate policies based on the developments of the last few days.” JNS


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