World Politics

Israel is not just a friend, but an 'asset' to the UAE and other Gulf states: Israeli minister

Key Points
  • The UAE and Israel agreed to normalize diplomatic relations last week.
  • Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, said Gulf countries recognized that Israel was one of the few powers that was challenging Iran.
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Israel-UAE deal is a historic 'breakthrough,' says Israeli minister

Many Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, see Israel as an "asset" because the country stands up to Iran, an Israeli minister said Tuesday, following last week's agreement for the UAE and Israel to normalize diplomatic relations.

In a deal brokered by the U.S., the two countries would establish diplomatic ties, and Israel would pause its efforts to annex portions of the West Bank. Turkey and Palestinian officials criticized the deal, but the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs called it a "win-win solution."

Iran is a common adversary of a number of countries in the Middle East, including Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister in the Israeli prime minister's office, said Gulf countries recognized that Israel was one of the few powers that was challenging the "ongoing terrorist activity and terrorist policy by Iran."

"They feel fragile, they feel, in a way, neglected," he told CNBC's "Capital Connection," pointing to the "scandalous decision" by the United Nations to not extend the arms embargo on Iran. He said Tehran was "still trying to take over the Middle East through bullying the Arab states."

"They see Israel not only as a friend, they see us as an asset because we stand up to the Iranians, we fight them whenever it's possible in Syria, in Lebanon or other places. We're not ready to surrender to the whims of the Iranian regime," he added.

Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

President Donald Trump last year designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Tehran retaliated by naming the United States a terrorism supporter and Centcom, the U.S. Central Command, a terrorist group. A Brookings Institution article earlier this year said Iran's support for numerous insurgent and rebel groups in the Middle East are an important part of the country's foreign policy.

Israeli national flags fly alongside United Arab Emirates national flags on the side of a road in Netanya, Israel, on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.
Kobi Wolf | Bloomberg | Getty Images

'Hopeful' for a deal with Palestinians

Hanegbi described the UAE deal as a "breakthrough" and said now was the time for the two "innovative" countries to find common denominators in various fields.

"In agriculture, in medicine, in trade, in energy — there are so many places where both of us can mutually benefit each other, and it really begins now," he said, noting that an Israeli firm and an Emirati company had agreed to cooperate on Covid-19 research. "(The) sky's the limit, in this sense."

The UAE is only the third Arab country to have open diplomatic relations with Israel, and Hanegbi expressed hope for a treaty with Palestinians. Peace talks between the two sides collapsed in 2014.

He said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strategy was to build relationships with other Arab leaders instead of waiting for negotiations to restart.

"Maybe this will convince the Palestinians that it's time for them to do whatever Jordan and Egypt, now the UAE are willing to do. To see Israelis not as enemies but as friends, as assets to their well being, technology, security," he said. "We are very hopeful that maybe Palestinian leaders will now join forces with other Arab leaders and come back, negotiate with us."

The minister said a deal was "essential" because Israelis live with Palestinians. "They are not going to disappear, we are not going to disappear. We have to find a way to get a historic compromise with the Palestinians."

Acknowledging that Palestinian officials called the UAE-Israel deal a "betrayal," Hanegbi said it was frustrating and sad. "They should be happy that the Arab world comes to its senses and understands that only by peaceful meeting, by cooperation, you will ensure the well-being of the people of this region," he added. 

— CNBC's Natasha Turak contributed to this report.