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Between Hezbollah and the United Arab Emirates, a “thaw” seems to be emerging. This is what can be concluded, at least, from the “unprecedented” visit of
the head of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit, Wafik Safa, to Abu Dhabi. While this trip officially concerned the issue of seven Lebanese detainees held in Emirati prisons for alleged ties with the pro-Iranian movementconsidered “terrorist” by some Gulf countriesit nonetheless appears that the visit serves the common interests of the two parties.

After years marked by a turbulent relationship between Abu Dhabi and Hezbollah, with several members of the pro-Iranian group getting arrested on Emirati territory, “The turning point that has been taken at this level, and which prevails over these secondary issues, is the diplomatic relationship established between Abu Dhabi and Damascus,” explains Didier Leroy, a researcher at the Royal Military Academy of Belgium, interviewed by This Is Beirut.

Indeed, the Emirates were the first Arab League member state to reopen their embassy in the Syrian capital at the end of 2018. “It is probably in light of this element and the rather unique Emirati position on the Middle East chessboard that we should understand the existence of direct communication with such an important figure in the Hezbollah hierarchy, namely Wafik Safa,” Leroy clarifies.

According to him, another objective for the UAE could be “to try to prevent a regional escalation, which has been ongoing since October 7 (the start date of the war between Hamas and Israel), as after concluding the Abraham Accords in 2020, they have no interest in the Eastern Mediterranean region remaining in the instability it is currently experiencing.” Why? Geographically, the Emirates are on the frontline of a conflict (if it were to erupt), situated between their Persian neighbor on one side and the rest of the Gulf countries on the other. Additionally, according to the founder of Celtic Intelligence, Jean Sébastien Guillaume, “Abu Dhabi, like Doha and Jeddah, has regional ambitions and can serve as a platform for economic, cultural and diplomatic exchanges.”

It must be said that the Emirates is ideally positioned to try to influence tensions and would attempt to play the diplomacy card. “The goal would be to negotiate with as many parties as possible, including Israel and those close to Syria, such as Hezbollah,” Leroy indicates. This balancing act is indeed at play throughout the region, leading to competition between different alliances.

For the UAE, however, the priority remains to be removed from the list of countries at risk of money laundering established by the European Union (EU). On March 14, Brussels made public the delegated act that formalizes its decision to rehabilitate the Emirates, giving the European Parliament one month to consider the matter.

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