Aug 16, 2020 - World

UAE unblocks direct phone lines with Israel following normalization deal

Tel Aviv city hall

Tel Aviv city hall lit up in the colors of the UAE. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

The United Arab Emirates on Sunday unblocked Israeli websites and direct international phone lines with Israel in a first step following the U.S.-brokered normalization deal announced last week, Israeli officials said.

Why it matters: The U.S. and Israel have tried for years to get the UAE and other Gulf states to establish direct phone service. The Obama administration asked the UAE to do so in support of special envoy George Mitchell’s peace initiative and again during Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative, but the UAE refused.

Between the lines: This move was in the works for several weeks and was pushed by Israel foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Israeli officials told me. Officials see it as a positive sign that the UAE wants to move quickly in turning the normalization announcement into practical steps.

  • Ashkenazi spoke Sunday with his Emirati counterpart Abdullah Bin Zayed to inaugurate the opening of direct phone services.
  • The UAE foreign ministry said both ministers stressed their commitment to implementing the normalization deal. The Israeli foreign ministry said Ashkenazi and Bin Zayed agreed to establish a channel of communication and meet as soon as possible.

The fact that the phone call was made public is also important.

  • Previous Israeli foreign ministers had a relationship with their Emirati counterparts, but their phone calls were kept secret and were even placed under a gag order by Israeli military censors.
  • This is the first time both Israel and the UAE have issued press statements about the phone call.

Go deeper: How the Israel-UAE deal came together

Go deeper