The United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to normalize relations Thursday following negotiations mediated by the US, with a formal ceremony expected to take place at the White House at a later date. The UAE is just the third Arab state, and the first in the Arabian Peninsula, to recognize the state of Israel since that country’s founding in 1948.
Former Obama-era US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro believes Tel Aviv transferred mystery technologies to Abu Dhabi to improve relations after the electrocution and suffocation-based assassination of Mahmoud Mabhouh, founder of Hamas’s military wing, in a hotel room in Dubai in January 2010.
“After the assassination of Mabhouh in Dubai there was a break of around a year and a half and then we helped the two sides come together again,” Shapiro recalled, speaking to Israeli media on Sunday.
“They started to speak to each other through [the US] about what was needed to return to relations the way they were before the assassination,” the former diplomat added.
According to Shapiro, UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed “felt personally hurt by what had happened with the understandings [between the two countries] in the wake of the assassination,” and asked Israel to refrain from carrying out any more intelligence operations on his country’s territory.
“He also asked for a number of technologies that up until this point Israel had not agreed [to share],” Shapiro added, saying Israel agreed. The ex-envoy did not say what those technologies were.
Assassination Caused Cooling of Relations
Mabhouh’s assassination led to a serious deterioration in unofficial contacts between the UAE and Israel, with Abu Dhabi formally asking Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant against then-Mossad Director Meir Dagan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Interpol did not respond to the appeal, but did join an international police task force investigating the killing. In 2018, French intelligence told Le Monde that the assassination plot was run by Mossad out of Paris.
In a 2019 report, Axios reported, citing former US officials, that the crisis between Israel and the UAE ended after Tel Aviv agreed not to carry out any more assassinations on UAE soil, and to enhanced intelligence cooperation with the UAE against Iran and Islamist extremist groups.
The issue of Israel’s intelligence operations in the UAE was also brought up by Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamin, the former Dubai police chief who investigated Mabhouh’s 2010 killing, days after the announcement of the move to normalize ties. In a comment to Israel’s Channel 12, the law enforcement officer mentioned he still believed that Mossad was responsible for the assassination, but called the operation a “strategic mistake” and praised Abu Dhabi’s plans to normalize ties with Tel Aviv.
Were Military Drones the Mystery Tech Involved?
In July, Arab media reported that the UAE may have supplied Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army with three Israeli-made ‘Heron’ drones. However, before that, in February 2019, media reported that a planned 2009 deal for the transfer of advanced Israeli drone technology fell through amid concerns by the Israeli military and Washington, and because of the fallout from the Mabhouh assassination.
IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight
According to Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Israel between mid-2011 and early 2017, quiet Israeli-UAE cooperation, often facilitated by Washington, began at least as far back as the days of the Bush administration.
US President Donald Trump announced the peace deal between the UAE and Israel on Thursday, telling reporters that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan would likely visit the White House sometime during the next three weeks to formally seal the agreement.
When the deal is signed, the UAE will become the third Arab country after Egypt and Jordan to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel.