Israel and UAE open phone link after historic deal

By Associated Press

A telephone service between the United Arab Emirates and Israel has begun working as the two countries opened diplomatic ties, part of a deal brokered by the US that required Israel to suspend its contentious plan to annex the West Bank.

UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan called his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, in what Israel hailed as an important step.

Congratulating the UAE on “removing the blocks”, Israeli communications minister Yoaz Handel issued a statement on Sunday saying: “Many economic opportunities will open now, and these trust-building steps are an important step toward advancing states’ interests.”

Associated Press journalists in Jerusalem and Dubai were able to call each other from both landline and mobile phones registered to Israel’s country code +972 from around 1.15pm.

Also on Sunday, Israeli news websites that had previously been blocked by UAE authorities, such as the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post and YNet, could be accessed without using means to bypass internet filtering in the Emirates.

In the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, a recorded message in Arabic and English would typically play prior to Sunday saying calls to +972 numbers could not be connected. The advent of internet calling allowed people to get around the ban, although these too were often interrupted.

Some in Israel used Palestinian mobile phones with +970 numbers, which those in the UAE could call.

The connection of phone service represents the first concrete sign of the deal between the Emiratis and Israelis.

Israel and the UAE announced on Thursday they were establishing full diplomatic relations in the US-brokered accord.

The historic deal delivered a foreign policy victory to President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about arch enemy Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

Palestinians say it puts a just resolution of the Middle East conflict even farther out of reach by undermining an Arab consensus that recognition of Israel only come in return for concessions in peace talks. That removes a rare source of leverage for the Palestinians.

The agreement will make the UAE the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to have full, active diplomatic ties with Israel. The UAE and Israel announced it in a joint statement, saying deals between the two countries were expected in the coming weeks in such areas as tourism, direct flights and embassies.

Early on Sunday, the Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency announced a UAE company had signed an agreement with an Israeli company for research and study of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move has sparked anger among some who see it as a betrayal of longstanding efforts to establish an independent state of Palestinians. In Pakistan, hundreds of Islamists rallied on Sunday to denounce the Emirati-Israeli deal. The Jamaat-e-Islami party chanted slogans against the US and burned effigies of Trump. They also set ablaze American and Israeli flags.

The deal also has enraged Iran and Turkey, regional rivals of the UAE.

On Sunday, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces called the UAE’s decision a “disaster”. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri urged Abu Dhabi to “revise” its position.

“If an incident happens in the Persian Gulf and violates the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even a tiny bit, and we see it from the UAE, we will not tolerate it,” Bagheri said.