Feb 4, 2020 - World

Scoop: Israel and UAE discuss anti-Iran cooperation at secret White House meeting

Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed at the White House in May. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The White House hosted a secret trilateral meeting in December between the U.S., Israel and the UAE on coordination against Iran, Israeli and U.S. officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting, which took place on Dec. 17, is one in a series of steps from the Trump administration to facilitate closer ties between Israel and the Arab states. It included discussion of a UAE-Israel nonaggression pact — an interim step on the way to diplomatic normalization.

  • Jared Kushner has been a key proponent of this initiative within the White House.

In the room: The December meeting included national security adviser Robert O'Brien and his deputy, Victoria Coates, as well as special envoy for Iran Brian Hook.

  • The Israeli team was led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat.
  • The UAE was represented by its ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba, a very close adviser to the UAE's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Israeli and U.S. officials said the secret meeting explained an unusual tweet from UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed on Dec. 21.

  • Bin Zayed tweeted an article headlined: “Islam’s reformation, an Arab-Israeli alliance is taking shape in the Middle East."
  • Netanyahu responded a day later, at the start of a weekly Cabinet meeting:
“The UAE Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, spoke about a new alliance in the Middle East: An Israeli-Arab alliance. … I can only say that this remark is the result of the ripening of many contacts and efforts, which at the moment, and I emphasize at the moment, would be best served by silence."
— Benjamin Netanyahu

Between the lines: Netanyahu has made great efforts to strengthen a secret alliance with the UAE against Iran.

  • The breakthrough took place in February 2019 in Warsaw, during a U.S.-led anti-Iran conference attended by Israel and the Gulf states.
  • After the Warsaw conference, the Trump administration decided to establish a trilateral forum — the U.S, Israel and the UAE — to strengthen cooperation against Iran.
  • At least three meetings took place in the last year. One of them was previously reported by the Wall Street Journal.
  • Emirati officials declined to comment for this report.

Another sign of warming ties was the presence of Otaiba, the UAE ambassador, at last week's unveiling ceremony for Trump's Middle East peace plan.

  • Netanyahu and the Trump administration want to move this process forward even more.
  • They're pushing for nonaggression deals with the UAE and other Gulf states, along with direct flights and public trips by Israeli officials to the Gulf, Israeli and U.S. officials say.

What to watch: Netanyahu might have a tight timeline to deliver. He's facing three corruption indictments and a tight election in March.

What they're saying:

"While the United States would certainly welcome expanding relationships between our critical allies and partners in the Middle East, we’re not going to detail private diplomatic conversations, nor do we have anything to announce."
— Senior White House official

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