Israel’s first ambassador to UAE ready for his historic mission

Na’eh’s first agenda item may be to prepare for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit in two weeks.

Ambassador Eitan Na'eh in Abu Dhabi (photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)
Ambassador Eitan Na'eh in Abu Dhabi
(photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)
For Ambassador Eitan Na’eh, the excitement of being Israel’s first senior diplomat in the United Arab Emirates began even before he landed in the Gulf state this week.
Speaking from self-quarantine in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Na’eh spoke of “national and personal excitement mixed together,” which began “from the first time the foreign minister summoned me and asked me to come here.”
That continued on Sunday, when Na’eh “got on a flight going east, over Saudi Arabia and landing in Dubai,” something that, as an Israeli, he still did not take for granted.
Now, Na’eh is the charge d’affaires of Israel’s new embassy in the UAE, opened five months after the countries announced the peace and normalization agreement called the Abraham Accords. He is in charge of the embassy until a permanent ambassador is chosen after the next government is formed, which will likely take at least three months.
Na’eh said he is in Abu Dhabi “with clear instructions to expand the ties,” because previously, Israel only had diplomatic representatives to the International Renewable Energy Agency based in the UAE, and not to the country itself.
“We need to build relations for the long term,” he said.
The ambassador is already answering calls from Emirati officials while in quarantine, which will likely continue for 10 days, and his arrival has attracted interest from the local media.
Na’eh’s first agenda item may be to prepare for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit, planned for February 9-10. The trip has not been finalized yet and the dates could change due to limits on flights as part of Israel’s policies to combat COVID-19.
More broadly, Na’eh will be working to map out areas for cooperation between Israel and the UAE and try to deepen the connections between the countries, by making contacts and holding conversations and meetings with officials and civil society groups.
“There is great excitement in Israel about these connections and they look very promising. We and [the Emiratis] have to determine which are the areas we want to advance,” he said. “The business community in Israel is very thirsty for this connection, and people here have a desire to come to us.”
Na’eh pointed out that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are major trade hubs between the East and West, and Israel can use that to its advantage. He also recounted that Israelis on his flight to the UAE were hoping to learn more about Emirati construction practices, especially its methods of air conditioning and cooling skyscrapers.
SOME OF the areas that Emiratis are interested in learning about from Israel are agriculture technologies and food security, as well as civilian space exploration, innovation and new technologies, Na’eh said.
“It’s a very long list. The UAE is a very advanced and developed country, and the cooperation is not just in one point – we can cooperate in every area,” he added. “There is great reciprocity in the relations.”
As for tourism, Na’eh said that the warm season in the UAE begins in what is springtime in Israel, so Israelis would probably mostly visit in winter. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to enter the UAE each year, and 130,000 have already visited in recent months.
Na’eh did not have an estimation of how many Emiratis would visit Israel annually, because few are traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we will see two-way traffic. The Emiratis are very curious about Israel’s culinary offerings – they asked about Israeli chefs – and about visiting not just Jerusalem, but sites in Tel Aviv and the North,” he said.
Meanwhile, Na’eh is working from quarantine. He will be taking part in a Tu Bishvat Seder, a ceremony for the Jewish holiday celebrating trees, via video conference with the UAE Jewish community and communities in Kiryat Gat and Chicago.
“We need to hit the ground running – and then speed up,” Na’eh said. “We need to learn a lot and advance cooperation in every area. Those are the keys.”
On Sunday, the UAE’s cabinet authorized the opening of an embassy in Israel.
The UAE Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the process “has been impacted by current movement restrictions in place in Israel to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“With UAE and Israeli efforts to lead the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns, we remain hopeful that the situation will improve and that the process of opening the embassy can be completed soon,” the UAE Foreign Ministry said.