Israel’s prime minister secretly visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ahead of the two countries’ deal to normalize ties, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

“During the past two years, [Benjamin] Netanyahu has made at least two visits to the UAE, as part of contacts to formulate the agreement,” read a report published by the daily Israel Today.

“The two visits lasted for several hours, and he [Netanyahu] was usually accompanied by the head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben Shabbat.”

Since there were no official ties between the two countries until now, the Israeli premier has never made an official visit to the Gulf state.

There has been no comment from either Israeli or UAE authorities on the newspaper’s report so far.

Israeli officials to visit UAE next week

A delegation of Israeli officials will head to Abu Dhabi next week, Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 reported on Friday.

The report quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that the delegation will meet top UAE government officials to finalize preparations for the signing of the agreement to normalize relations.

According to Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli delegation will be headed by Israeli National Intelligence Agency (Mossad) chief Yossi Cohen.

The deal to normalize UAE-Israel ties was announced by US President Donald Trump on Thursday, in a move forestalling Israel’s controversial plans to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank.

A joint statement from the US, UAE, and Israel said the “breakthrough” will promote “peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders,” referring to Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and Netanyahu.

The UAE News Agency also touted the agreement as a step towards bilateral relations.

The development marks only the third time an Arab nation has opened full diplomatic ties with Israel, also making Emirates the very first Gulf Arab state to do so. The other Arab nations with diplomatic ties with Israel are Egypt and Jordan.

Palestinian groups denounced the new agreement, saying it does nothing to serve the Palestinian cause and ignores the rights of the Palestinian people. The UAE peace deal with Israel is a “treacherous stab in the back of the Palestinian people,” Hamas said in a statement.

* Bassel Barakat contributed to this report from Ankara

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