JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel plans to open a diplomatic-level mission to the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi, its first openly established representative office in the United Arab Emirates, Israeli diplomats said on Friday.
The office will not be a full mission, but will consist of a diplomat assigned to the renewable energy agency. Nevertheless, it will be the first time an Israeli foreign ministry official is permanently stationed in the Gulf state.
Foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed details first reported in Israeli daily Haaretz and three diplomatic officials told Reuters the move was underway.
Israel does not have formal diplomatic ties with most states in the Middle East because of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its only formal relations are with neighbours Egypt and Jordan.
But the nuclear deal between world powers and Shi'ite Muslim power Iran has caused disquiet in Israel and Sunni Arab states alike. Common ground has emerged between the two sides, even if they are cautious about drawing attention to the links.
In recent years, Israeli officials have met counterparts from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf at nuclear non-proliferation talks in Switzerland, gatherings that the Israelis say have helped melt the ice and lead to increased dialogue.
A delegation from Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited IRENA's offices in Abu Dhabi and met with its director-general earlier in the week, a spokesperson for IRENA said in a written statement.
Under the terms of IRENA's "headquarters agreement", which establishes its base in Abu Dhabi, all members have the right to send permanent missions accredited to the organisation, the statement added. The UAE, as host country, must facilitate.
The director-general of Israel's foreign ministry, Dore Gold, visited Abu Dhabi this month, the first time someone of his diplomatic rank has publicly made such a trip. Israeli ministers have visited the Gulf.
While the Abu Dhabi mission is seen as a positive step, at least one Israeli official voiced caution, saying that while it was "half a step out the door", it was still a long way from being a full diplomatic posting.
"This is accreditation to the International Renewable Energy Agency, nothing else. It is in Abu Dhabi, not a mission to Abu Dhabi," he said.
(Reporting by Luke Baker and Katie Paul; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens)