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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

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Netanyahu is out as new Israeli government survives confidence vote

Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel has a new prime minister for the first time since 2009 after a power-sharing government led by Naftali Bennett survived a confidence vote on Sunday. Bennett was sworn in as prime minister.

Why it matters: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister and the man around whom Israeli politics have revolved for a decade, will now become opposition leader. Bennett, a right-wing former Netanyahu protege, will lead the most ideologically diverse government in Israeli history.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Afghanistan, cyber defense on the agenda for Biden in Brussels

Joe Biden arrives at Melsbroek Military Airport in Brussels on June 13. Photo: Yves Herman/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden touched down in Brussels on Sunday evening ahead of two days of talks with NATO and European Union leaders as part of his first foreign trip as president.

Driving the news: Biden was greeted on the tarmac by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and a slate of other officials, including Douglas Jones and Mark Libby, the U.S. Permanent Representatives to NATO and the EU respectively.

Maersk CEO: Global businesses should be wary of politics

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

  • What they're saying: "We cannot run a global business if we start to have views on politics in every single country that we are in," Maersk CEO Søren Skou tells "Axios on HBO."