Netanyahu to visit UAE Thursday

Reports Israeli PM will hold talks with Abu Dhabi's Crown, return home the same day in run-up to Israeli elections.

JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, Israeli media reported on Wednesday, in an opportunity to showcase new Gulf ties before a closely contested election in Israel.

The reports, on Israel's main news websites and public radio, were not immediately confirmed by Netanyahu's office or by the UAE. The reports said he would hold talks with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and return home the same day.

Israel established formal relations with the UAE and Bahrain last September - only its third and fourth normalisation deals with Arab states in over 70 years - as part of a US-brokered agreement. The three countries share common concerns about Iran.

It was not immediately clear if Netanyahu would also visit Bahrain, as he had planned to do during a previously scheduled one-day trip to the Gulf in February which he postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Netanyahu, largely running in politically-polarised Israel's fourth election in two years on his role in its rapid COVID-19 vaccination programme, has also made his drive to forge new relations in the Gulf region a centrepiece of his campaign.

Israeli tourists and business executives flocked to the UAE before a national lockdown in Israel largely closed its main international airport, in Tel Aviv, in late January. Restrictions were eased on Sunday.

In an interview with Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday, Netanyahu called on voters to re-elect him on March 23 so that he could achieve "more peace agreements" in the area, while ensuring that Iran "doesn't arm itself with nuclear weapons".

Iran denies its nuclear programme is aimed at developing atomic weaponry.