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The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, told me in an exclusive interview that his country wants to implement its normalization deal with Israel “as soon as possible."

What he's saying: Gargash said he was confident that the U.S.-brokered deal moved Israeli annexation of the West Bank off the table for a “long time.” He also said Israeli tourists would soon be able to travel to the UAE.

Why it matters: This is the first-ever interview by a UAE official with an Israeli journalist. Gargash used it to explain what led the UAE to agree to the normalization deal, and to urge Israel to take steps to ensure its success.

  • Gargash said the approving statement yesterday from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden showed there was bipartisan support for this deal, and that U.S. efforts to bring Israel and the UAE together will continue regardless of the result of November's election.
  • He stressed that this was not a symbolic step, but one that the UAE hopes will lead to cooperation on agriculture, food security, cyber security, tourism, technology and trade. Gargash said the deal would also involve opening embassies.
  • “We are not talking about a very slow and gradual process. ... There are sectors that we would like to develop with Israel and there are sectors that Israel would like to develop. I see teams meeting in order to address many of the areas of interest in Israel and in the UAE," he said.

The backstory: Gargash said the UAE’s relations with Israel improved slowly over the years, and that progress accelerated in the last year or two as the Gulf country realized it wanted to be able to “disagree with Israel on the political issues and work together on other areas."

  • He said the region had seen had been many false starts in the past, so efforts were needed from Israel, the UAE and the U.S. to ensure this initiative was successful.
  • "This is an important milestone in Arab-Israeli relations. We have seen many milestones which were less successful. If we learn something from the region, it is that it is not once you announce something that it becomes instantly successful. We all have to work together," he said.

What to watch: The UAE’s main achievement in the normalization deal is the suspension of Israel's annexation plans — but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly said that suspension was only temporary. Gargash said he's confident there will be no Israeli annexations for a long time.

  • “I don’t understand Israeli politics. It is very complicated. But this is a three-way commitment. We are sure that as we will keep our commitment, and the U.S. is involved, so will Israel keep its commitment. I think we have bought a lot of time…I don’t think it is a short suspension."
  • He added that the rationale behind pushing for a suspension was to try to relaunch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • “We keep urging Palestinians and Israelis to come back to the negotiations table. You can’t stop the time bomb but at the same time not do anything in terms of the interaction that is needed," he said.
  • Between the lines: Palestinian officials have been highly critical of the deal, and of the UAE for agreeing to it.

Worth noting: Gargash said the upcoming EXPO in Dubai would be an important opportunity for Israelis to travel to the UAE.

Go deeper... Behind the scenes: How the deal came together

Go deeper

Nov 18, 2020 - World

Israel's plan to influence Biden on Iran

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Israel is drafting a strategy for engaging with the incoming Biden administration on Iran, two Israeli officials tell me.

What they're saying: “We don’t want to be left out again," Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset foreign relations committee in a classified hearing last week. He said Israel had to avoid the mistakes that left it isolated as the Obama administration negotiated the 2015 Iran deal.

Nov 18, 2020 - World

Exclusive: Biden must consult Gulf states before new Iran deal, Bahrain foreign minister says

Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani of Bahrain told me in an exclusive interview that he expects the Biden administration to consult Bahrain and other Gulf countries before moving toward a new nuclear deal with Iran.

Why it matters: The comments, made during Zayani's historic visit to Jerusalem today, reflect the concerns of other Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE about Biden's desire to revive the existing nuclear deal and potentially negotiate a new one.

Nov 17, 2020 - World

Biden speaks with Israeli leaders Netanyahu and Rivlin

Biden (L) with Netanyahu in 2010. Photo: Baz Ratner-Pool/Getty Images

President-elect Biden spoke on the phone today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin as part of series of congratulatory phone calls with leaders around the world.

The big picture: The order in which these calls are returned by an incoming president is closely watched. Biden called Netanyahu and Rivlin after speaking with the leaders of nine other U.S. allies over the past few days.