Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel’s diplomatic reporter
President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, opened Israel national day at Expo 2020 Dubai on Monday morning, saying that Israelis share Emiratis’ “high regard for religious faith bound with ingenuity.”
“Part of the novelty of the UAE is the combination of an innovative spirit and forward-thinking approach, with deep respect for the glorious Muslim tradition,” the president said.
“We admire the course you have charted,” he declared.
Herzog and the first lady were welcomed at the Dubai expo with an honor guard, followed by the raising of Israel’s flag at the site’s central plaza and the playing of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem.
“Israel is a country in which obstacles become opportunities, and where the impossible is a tantalizing challenge,” Herzog said in a speech. “This pavilion has provided a phenomenal taste of what we have to offer — from water tech and sustainable agriculture to public health to smart cities and groundbreaking solutions for a circular economy.”
He called the pavilion “a practical display of cooperation between nations, of the future we can all imagine. This imagination turned into reality right here, when the UAE and its leaders daringly signed the historic Abraham Accords.”
Herzog concluded his remarks in Arabic, saying, “May God bless you and grant you long lives. Thank you very much.”
Speaking before Herzog, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE’s tolerance and coexistence minister and Expo 2020 Dubai commissioner-general, said, “Israel has much to offer on our global platform.”
After his visit to the Israeli pavilion, Herzog met with Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
According to the president’s office, the two men discussed the bilateral relationship in trade, investment, tourism, and innovation.
Over 600,000 people have visited Israel’s pavilion at the expo. All 192 countries at the expo have a day to present their own pavilion.
Israel and the UAE forged ties in the United States-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, bringing over a decade of covert contacts into the open, and have seen their relationship flourish since then.
Herzog and his wife landed in Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning for the first-ever official visit by an Israeli president to the UAE.
Meeting with Jewish leaders Sunday night, Herzog expressed his thanks to the UAE’s powerful Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed — known as MBZ — calling the UAE’s de facto ruler “a bold leader, an amazing leader with whom I spent a few hours today and from whom I drew immense inspiration.”
The president also thanked former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former US president Donald Trump, and Bahrain’s King Hamid bin Isa al Khalifa for bringing about the Abraham Accords.
Rabbi Elie Abadie, senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, told The Times of Israel that “it was emotional to see the president of the State of Israel here in an Arab country for the first time in history.”
The UAE on Sunday night announced it shot down a ballistic missile fired at it by the Houthi terrorist group. A statement from Herzog’s spokesman said the president was informed of the incident and that his visit would proceed as planned. “There was not, and is not, any danger posed to the president and his entourage,” the statement said.
Earlier in the day, Herzog met with MBZ for over two hours.
Afterward, Bin Zayed invited Herzog for an unscheduled follow-up personal meeting at his private palace.
The president and first lady were given a festive welcome by UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, which included the playing of both countries’ national anthems, and a 21-gun salute. Afterward, they held a working meeting, then had lunch with members of Herzog’s delegation.
During the journey from Israel, the president’s plane flew over Saudi Arabia, a powerful Sunni state with which Israel does not have formal diplomatic relations. According to Herzog’s office, he entered the cockpit to view the Saudi desert, and remarked: “No doubt, this is truly a very moving moment.”
In December, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with MBZ at the latter’s palace in Abu Dhabi, as part of the first official visit by an Israeli premier to the UAE.
Netanyahu, who was instrumental in the signing of the Abraham Accords, repeatedly tried to schedule a visit to the UAE, but was forced to cancel on a number of occasions and never officially made the trip as premier.
In June, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid officially inaugurated Israel’s embassy in the UAE.
According to Bennett’s office, bin Zayed is expected to visit Israel at the prime minister’s invitation.
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Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel’s diplomatic reporter