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Private jet reportedly takes UAE and Israel officials from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv

Meetings held to prepare for Emirati foreign minister and Israeli PM to make surprise visits to each other's countries, Al-Khaleej Online reports
Screenshot of Flightradar24 website shows Jet 9H-VCL flying directly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv on 17 January (Screengrab)

Emirati and Israeli officials travelled together on a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv late on Thursday, Al-Khaleej Online reported.

The private jet marked 9H-VCL flew from Abu Dhabi airport through Saudi airspace, without stopping in Jordan as is customary, and landed in Ben Gurion airport.

Israeli security figures were returning from a secret trip to Abu Dhabi to prepare for "a surprise visit" of the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed to Tel Aviv, high-level sources told Al-Khaleej Online.

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This was to be followed, the sources said, by a visit to Abu Dhabi by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The sources added that a Saudi "green light" was given to the UAE for these visits, as Riyadh is keen to normalise ties with Israel officially and is preparing a meeting in Washington that would gather Netanyahu with US President Donald Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Middle East Eye could not verify the information.

Kamal Khatib, deputy head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, told the Arabi 21 news site that two Emirati officials were allegedly on the plane: the foreign minister and head of UAE intelligence Tahnoun bin Zayed.

'Hugs' and visits

Earlier this week, Netanyahu revealed during a retirement celebration for Gadi Eisenkot, who has served as the 21st chief of Israel army's general staff since 2015, that the outgoing head of the army met the commanders-in-chief of several Arab armies during his four-year term.

The prime minister credited the outgoing chief of staff for being part of the change in Muslim and Arab states' attitude towards Israel.

"Gadi, you were part of it and you witnessed it, in your meetings with commanders-in-chief of armies of Arab states. You saw the hugs, and there are pictures of these hugs," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu's revelation about the "hugs" with Arab military leaders comes as Middle East Eye reported last week that Mossad director Yossi Cohen attended a meeting in a Gulf capital in early December with senior intelligence officials from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with whom he discussed measures to curtail the regional influence of Turkey and Iran.

Last week it was also reported that the leader of Israel's Labor Party, Avi Gabbay, secretly visited Abu Dhabi in early December and met with senior officials there.

The UAE, like most Arab countries, does not have official diplomatic ties with Israel and does not officially recognise it.

However, Israeli Minister of Sport and Culture Miri Regev travelled to the UAE in October to attend a judo tournament in which an Israeli competitor was allowed to compete under Israel's flag and sing its anthem for the first time in the country.

It was the first time an Israeli minister made an official visit to the Emirates.

Netanyahu also visited Oman, which does not recognise Israel, in November, and was hosted in Muscat by Sultan Qaboos.

Among the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain are becoming more open about their relations with Israel at an official level.

Despite the warm official ties that Israel has developed with some Gulf Arab states, the 2017-2018 Arab Opinion Index poll conducted by the Doha Institute indicated that 90 percent of Arabs believe that Israel "poses a threat to the security and stability of the region".