The first-ever commercial flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi is set to take place early next week, as Israel and the United Arab Emirates step up efforts to normalise ties.
Israel's national carrier El Al, that will operate the flight, will carry a high-profile Israeli and American delegation to the UAE, where the teams are supposed to mull over future steps before the two countries ink an official peace treaty in Washington in the coming months.
Official relations between the two states started on 13 August, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the UAE would be the third Arab state to officially recognise Israel.
David Meidan, former head of Mossad's "Tevel" division, a branch responsible for external relations with peer organisations and states Israel has no official ties with and a man, who established the Jewish state's first contacts with Abu Dhabi, tells Sputnik his own story on when and how these relations actually began.
Sputnik: When did it all start?
Meidan: Relations started at the end of 2005, the beginning of 2006. Prior to that, Israeli officials would "bump" into their Emirati counterparts occasionally. We would see them in third countries, at summits or meetings, we would come across their ambassadors but it wasn't something serious.
"Serious" relations only kicked off in 2006 when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approached the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, and tasked him with two missions.
The first one was to handle the Iranian threat [allegations that the Islamic Republic is developing weapons of mass destruction - ed.] and the second one was establishing ties with moderate Sunni states in the region.
Dagan then approached me and appointed me to head the Tevel Division, where my team was supposed to establish those ties and maintain them.
Sputnik: So how did it actually work?
Meidan: We literally took a map and started examining the countries in the region, analysed who they were, what possible mutual interests we could have, and looked for contacts. The UAE was just one of those countries that we were focusing on, but they weren't the only ones.
Once we found a connection in the UAE, we started communicating but everything was clandestine and each side made sure nothing leaked to the press.
These relationships always start from small things and gradually develop into something significant. For us, initially, these were ties between the intelligence agencies of the two countries. Top officials would meet from time to time to share views. Then there was a decision to establish a direct channel. But the ultimate goal was to establish a continuous working relationship.
Sputnik: Weren't they afraid to go against the grain? After all, Israel hasn't enjoyed a lot of support in the Arab world.
Meidan: Out of all the Gulf states, they had the most guts. They are a very daring nation. Their leaders are talented and seasoned, way ahead of everyone else in the region. Of course, everything was done secretly but they were not afraid.
Back then, they already understood the advantages of Israel and gave a green light for trade and business deals.
Emirati Leaders - Who Are They?
Sputnik: How did you know you could trust them? And that they would change their minds later on?
Meidan: The leaders of the country are very decent and reliable people. When they shake your hand and say they will do something, you know they will keep their word; and you don't need a contract to make sure they stick to their promises.
They are smart, well-travelled, and educated. They are organised and have clear-cut goals. I have immense respect for them for the way they run their country. And it is not just me. Ordinary Emiratis are proud of them and respect them too.
Over the years, they've managed to do something that others couldn't. They managed to create a system, where all citizens of the UAE benefit from the country's wealth. Citizens don't pay taxes. Education is free there. From kindergarten to a PhD, everything is funded by the state and lots of money has been invested in the education system.
Medical services and insurance are free of charge too. A young couple that gets married receives land they can build on.
What's also interesting is that they chose not to rely only on their energy, and a lot of money has been invested in luxurious properties, banks, technologies, industries, tourism, and high-tech.
Sputnik: And that's why they need Israel?
Meidan: They understood Israel's potential and realised that what we can bring them is good for their economy.
Sputnik: Are you still in touch with those you started the initial bond with?
Meidan: Yes, I am. I have known them for many years. And during my multiple trips there I met most of the country's top echelon, including the current leader and his brothers.
Sputnik: Do you think the peace with them will be different from what Israel has with Egypt and Jordan who have never been warm towards the Jewish state?
Meidan: You make peace with enemies. The UAE has never been our foes. With Egypt and Jordan, we had a number of wars. We had people killed, injured, and imprisoned. So a peace deal with Egypt was one of the biggest diplomatic achievements as it paved the way for other Arab countries to follow suit.
The UAE is a different story. We never fought any wars with them. Nor did they send their troops here, so basically there is no bad blood between us.
Sputnik: Do you think other countries will follow suit, after Israel and the UAE ink their agreement?
Meidan: I think Bahrain is certainly ripe for this, but it is hard to tell how much time it will take them. It is not a race against time. I believe that eventually, it will happen. After Bahrain, there might be another country, not necessarily from the Gulf. Then Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait as they are Western too but it takes them some time to react to changes.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.