UAE, Israel and US to launch religion and energy working groups

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed will work to strengthen Abraham Accords in meeting with US and Israeli counterparts

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 31, 2020. US-Israeli delegation led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on Monday arrived in the UAE on the first commercial flight between Israel and the UAE.
Victor Besa /The National
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Reporter:  Khaled Owais
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The UAE, Israel and the US will launch two trilateral working groups focused on religious co-existence as well as water and energy issues, the US State Department announced on Tuesday.

The groups will be launched on Wednesday following a meeting in Washington between Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, and his Israeli and American counterparts, Yair Lapid and Antony Blinken.

“This reflects our belief in the Abraham Accords and normalisation agreements are large and helped to achieve a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East,” a senior US administration official told reporters on a call previewing the trilateral meeting.

“These working groups will seek to realise that promise to link up to important US partners in the region and find new ways to solve old problems together in Israel, in the UAE, but also across the region and beyond to the benefit of US, Israeli and Emirati interests.”

The senior US official said Mr Blinken intends to thank Sheikh Abdullah for the UAE’s assistance during the removal of US citizens and visa holders from Afghanistan.

“Simply put, support for this effort is critical to our operations and we remain deeply grateful for their humanitarian efforts and compassion,” the official said.

Additionally, the senior US official said that Sheikh Abdullah and Mr Blinken will “discuss perspectives on achieving a sustainable ceasefire” in Yemen.

The two will also discuss Syria and the need to secure the “urgent implementation of reforms” in Lebanon to help ensure the country’s security.

Before the trilateral meeting, Mr Lapid made the rounds in Washington on Tuesday for separate discussions with Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Mr Lapid and Mr Sullivan “discussed deepening Israel’s relationships with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco".

She said they also “discussed the current situation in Gaza, and Mr Sullivan emphasised the importance of practical steps to improve the lives of the Palestinians".

The senior administration official told The National that Republicans in Congress had released a months-long hold “some weeks ago” on $75 million in economic and development funding for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

James Risch and Mike McCaul first instated the hold on the $75m hold in April after President Joe Biden’s administration announced in April it would resume $235m in Palestinian aid halted under former president Donald Trump.

Mr Lapid and Mr Blinken will also discuss the additional $1 billion in funding for the Iron Dome missile defence programme that Israel has requested from the US.

The House of Representatives voted 420-9 to appropriate the additional $1bn for Israel last month and the bill is expected to pass the Senate easily as well.

Both Israel and the Biden administration say the funding is meant to replenish the Iron Dome batteries depleted during Israel’s latest war against Hamas in May, which killed at least 243 Palestinians and 12 Israelis while devastating the Gaza Strip.

But the $1bn funding request represents a 60 per cent increase over the $1.7bn in total funding that the US has provided in Iron Dome funding over the past decade.

Asked by The National whether the additional Iron Dome funding would be used for purposes other than replenishing batteries, the senior administration official simply reiterated the US commitment to the missile defence programme without clarifying the high cost.

“We are committed to Iron Dome funding,” the senior US official told The National.

“We remain committed to Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

Updated: October 12, 2021, 10:14 PM