The first official visit to Israel by a United Arab Emirates delegation, provisionally planned for Sept. 22, may be postponed or conducted under restrictions given a looming coronavirus lockdown, Science Minister Izhar Shay said Friday.
The delegates were expected to arrive in reciprocation of last week's groundbreaking Abu Dhabi visit by top Israeli and U.S. envoys, a source familiar with the planning said.
Israeli officials have confirmed such a plan while the UAE has not.
Struggling against a surge of coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu's pandemic taskforce on Thursday approved a rolling national lockdown. The lockdown is expected to go into effect next week, following a cabinet vote on Sunday, and span major Jewish holidays that run from Sept 18 to Oct 10.
"To all appearances, this [UAE delegation visit] will either be postponed or a special modality will be required," Shay, one of whose top aides took part in the Aug 31 Abu Dhabi trip, told Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM.
"I reckon that they will also appreciate the fact we are protecting the health of the citizenry, and, if we are forced to postpone the delegation, will accept this with understanding," Shay said.
Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan will sign the normalisation deal at the White House on Tuesday.
As a health precaution, Netanyahu aides said, the prime minister and his family will fly to Washington on a private jet, separate from an airliner chartered for the rest of the Israeli delegation.
The two countries announced on Aug. 13 they would normalize diplomatic relations in a U.S.-brokered deal that was hailed as a breakthrough by Washington and Israel but spurned by the Palestinians.
The trip would be the first publicly acknowledged visit to Israel by an official delegation from the UAE.
Israel exchanged embassies with neighbors Egypt and Jordan under peace deals decades ago. But until the UAE accord, all other Arab states had demanded Israel first cede more land to the Palestinians.
A minister said this week that annual trade between Israel and the UAE is expected to reach $4 billion.