Israel wants peace with its neighbours in the region, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday as he opened the country’s embassy in Abu Dhabi during the first official visit by a senior minister since relations were established last year with the UAE.
“We are standing here today because we chose peace over war,” Mr Lapid said during the opening ceremony with Minister of Youth and Culture Noura Al Kaabi.
“Israel wants peace with its neighbours, with all its neighbours – we aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home, we’re here to stay,” he said.
“We call on all the countries of the region to recognise that. And to come talk to us.”
He reiterated that the visit and agreements already made were just the beginning of relations between Israel and the UAE.
Israel’s embassy is currently housed in a temporary location and has just three diplomats. However, Lior Haiat, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said they were “planning for it to be a big one, an important one”.
Mr Lapid’s visit comes nine months after the UAE and Bahrain moved to normalise relations with Israel with the signing of the historic Abraham Accord at a White House ceremony with then-president Donald Trump and then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As well as the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have also begun normalising relations with Israel.
Over the past nine months, nearly 200,000 Israelis have visited the UAE and 12 agreements have been signed, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The new Israeli foreign minister and alternate prime minister tweeted a photo of himself on the El Al flight to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning.
“Making history: proud to represent the State of Israel on its first official visit to the United Arab Emirates,” Mr Lapid tweeted in Hebrew and Arabic. “Thanks for the warm welcome.”
He was then welcomed on Tuesday morning at Abu Dhabi airport by Minister of State Ahmed Al Sayegh with a short ceremony before he travelled to the new Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi for the inauguration ceremony.
Mr Lapid, a centrist, is credited as the mastermind behind a coalition that this month unseated veteran right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu after more than a decade in office.
His two-day visit to the UAE will end on Wednesday after he visits Expo 2020 Dubai, a world fair that will begin in October and where Israel has a pavilion.
Following the visit, he will inaugurate the Israeli consulate in Dubai.
Mr Lapid met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome earlier this week. While in the Italian capital, he met Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.