JERUSALEM (AP) — In an emotional scene, the Israeli national anthem was performed at a public sporting event in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday while two Israeli Cabinet ministers said they would soon head to the region in new signs of warming ties between Israel and the Gulf Arab states.
The developments came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid an official visit to the Gulf state of Oman, the first such meeting in over 20 years.
Netanyahu has frequently boasted of warming, behind-the-scenes ties with Arab states, drawn to Israel in part out of mutual animosity toward Iran. But until recently, he has rarely provided examples.
That changed with Friday’s dramatic announcement of his trip to Oman, where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
“These were important talks, both for the state of Israel and very important talks for Israel’s security. There will be more,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday.
As he spoke, Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was in the process of winning a gold medal at an international judo competition in Abu Dhabi. Muki stood on the victor’s pedestal as Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva,” played, while the Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev proudly looked on.
“We made history,” Regev tweeted afterward.
It was a significant change from last year, when UAE organizers had singled Israel out with a ban on displaying its flag or playing its anthem during the tournament when one of its athletes was awarded a medal.
The International Judo Federation had temporarily suspended the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam from its schedule, but it was reinstated in September after the tournament’s UAE organizers promised equal treatment to Israeli athletes.
Israel and the Gulf Arab countries have shared concerns over Iran’s activities across the region, including its nuclear program and its involvement in civil wars in Syria and Yemen.
Oman’s unique regional position could enable it to play a bigger role mediating between Israel and archenemy Iran. The tiny Gulf state, sandwiched between Iran and Saudi Arabia, maintains good relations with the rival countries.
On Sunday, Israeli Transportation Minister Israel Katz’s office said he would travel to Oman next week for an international transportation conference. Katz, who is also Israel’s intelligence minister, is to present a plan to build a rail link between the Arab Gulf states and Israel.
The office of Communications Minister Ayoob Kara also said he would travel to Dubai for a communications conference.
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