The United Arab Emirates opened direct phone communications with Israel and unblocked Israeli news websites in a sign that the two Middle East states are moving swiftly to begin normalising relations.

Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the UAE’s foreign minister, and Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi “exchanged greetings” as they “inaugurated a phone link” between the countries on Sunday, the Gulf state’s foreign ministry said on Twitter.

The move comes three days after the UAE and the Jewish state reached a landmark deal to establish full diplomatic relations. In return, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to suspend his plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank. 

But Mr Netanyahu, who hailed the accord as “a new era in Israel’s relations with the Arab world,” has insisted that he has only delayed his plans to claim sovereignty over land occupied since the 1967 war.

“I am not giving up on annexation, I am standing strong for it. I promised that I will bring peace with Arab states and I brought it, I will also bring annexation,” he told Army Radio on Sunday. 

The UAE is on course to become only the third Arab country to normalise relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed that the call between Sheikh Abdullah and Mr Ashkenazi took place, adding that the two top diplomats had agreed to “a direct channel of communication” and to meet soon.

Israel has not had direct phone telecommunications with Middle East countries with which it does not have formal relations.

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Yoaz Handel, Israel’s communication minister, congratulated the UAE for “removing the blocks”, adding that “many economic opportunities will open now, and these trust-building steps are an important step toward advancing states’ interests”.

In a further sign of changing relations, APEX National Investment, a UAE company, signed a deal with TeraGroup, an Israeli company, to conduct research into coronavirus and to co-operate on the development of a test for the virus. 

“We are delighted with this co-operation with TeraGroup, which is considered the first business to inaugurate trade, economy and effective partnerships between the Emirati and Israeli business sectors,” Khalifa Yousef Khouri, Apex’s chairman, said on Sunday.

The UAE and other Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have been quietly strengthening ties with Israel in recent years as they share the Jewish state’s concerns over Iran’s influence and have been keen to gain access to Israeli technology, particularly on security.

The co-operation between the UAE and Israel has become more public in recent months, with an Abu Dhabi-based firm, Group 42, agreeing in July to a partnership with two Israeli companies to conduct research and development related to Covid-19.

Eli Cohen, Israel’s intelligence minister, said on Sunday that he expected similar peace accords with Arab states would follow. 

“Following this agreement, there will come other normalisation agreements with other Gulf states and with Muslim states in Africa,” Mr Cohen told Israel’s Army Radio. He cited possible accords “in the course of the coming year” with Bahrain, Oman, Sudan and Morocco — all countries with which Israel has already developed informal links in recent years.

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The UAE has insisted that its decision to establish relations with the Jewish state was a “bold” step to prevent Israeli annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank and keep alive the notion of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the move has infuriated Palestinian leaders, who have accused the Gulf state of betrayal.

Via Financial Times