First official visit to Gulf Arab states by an Israeli PM reportedly pushed off for second time due to ongoing national lockdown

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — the first announced official visit to the two Gulf Arab states by an Israeli prime minister — has again been postponed, according to a report on Tuesday.

Citing Israeli officials, the report by the Walla news site said the recent delay is due to the ongoing national lockdown ordered in Israel to curb coronavirus infections. It is the second time in the past month that Netanyahu’s Gulf tour has been delayed.

Netanyahu had been scheduled to visit the two countries in the first week of January, according to Walla. It did not say whether a new date has been set.

Israel’s third nationwide lockdown, which began on Sunday evening, is to last two weeks with the option of extending it for a further 14 days. Health officials have already said the closure is likely to continue for at least a month, if not longer.

Netanyahu’s Gulf trip, which was originally supposed to take place at the end of December, was rescheduled earlier this month against the background of a political crisis in Israel, which eventually led the Knesset to disband and the calling of national elections — the fourth in two years — in March.

Netanyahu was initially invited to visit Bahrain at the end of November. However, before the trip was finalized, Bahrain asked Netanyahu to delay the visit until December and make it part of a broader Gulf tour that includes the UAE, Israeli officials told the Walla news site at the time.

The Israeli leader is thought to have visited various Gulf capitals in secret as the countries maintained an under-the-radar relationship only brought into the open amid a flurry of diplomatic activity over the last several months. In 2018, he visited Muscat, but only confirmed the visit after the fact.

Israel established diplomatic ties with the UAE and Bahrain in September as part of a US-brokered agreement known as the Abraham Accords. Since then, the Jewish state has reached an agreement to open reciprocal embassies with both countries and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani visited Israel in November.

In addition to the two Gulf states, Israel has recently also reached normalization agreements with Sudan and Morocco.

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