image Photo: Flash90

Bennett makes landmark visit to Bahrain

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is in Manama on a 2-day, agenda-packed trip.

By Erin Viner

Bennett’s visit, which comes at the invitation of King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, marks the first time the Premier of the Jewish State has travelled to the Gulf Arab Kingdom.

This afternoon the Israeli leader was received by an honor guard at the palace of Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.

The talks focused primarily on bolstering bilateral economic relations, as well as the threat posed by a nuclear armed Iran and its malign behavior throughout the Middle East.

At the start of their meeting, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said, “Peace should be the endeavor for all responsible peoples. Not that we have ever had a war but relations between our two countries were not at a level that could be construed as normal. And I think that if we see a wider Middle East that is free from conflict, that is based on principles of mutual respect, understanding, and sharing responsibility towards security, we must do more to get to know one another and build upon the Abraham Accords, which have been such an historic agreement.”

Saying that it gave him “great pleasure” to welcome Bennett to the Kingdom of Bahrain, Prince Salman added, “I feel very happy you are here and I look forward to all the wonderful things we will be able to do together as individuals and as peoples.”

Prime Minister Bennett responded that he as received a “warm and generous reception” including “a very unique hospitality of your people and of yourself. I view this as a very big opportunity,” stressing that he came from Israel with “a spirit of good will, of cooperation, of standing together amidst mutual challenges and I think our goal in this visit is to turn it from government-to-government, to people-to-people peace and to convert it from ceremonies to substance.”

Bennett began his trip by stating on the tarmac of Ben Gurion International Airport that he would hold a “series of meetings whose goal is to fill with energy and content the peace agreements between the two nations.”

With the world’s attention on the possible escalation of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and its potential global consequences, the Israeli leader stressed, ““I think especially in these tumultuous times it is important that from this region we send a message of good will, of cooperation, of standing together against common challenges and of building bridges to the future.”

Israel and Bahrain normalized relations as part of the United States-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020.

Bennett was greeted upon arrival in Manama with an honor guard attended by Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Industry, Head of Protocol, the Israeli Ambassador to Bahrain Eitan Naeh and other senior officials.

This morning Prime Minister Bennett was welcomed by Bahraini Jewish community leaders within the framework of his official visit.

“I’m very delighted to be here in Bahrain, and I could think of no better way to kick off this visit than seeing my family here,” Bennett said, emphasizing that, “I come from Israel with goodwill, with warm friendship between the two peoples, and I’m sure you can be a remarkable bridge between Bahrain and Israel. I’m looking forward to a wonderful day to strengthen the Abraham Accords, to strengthen the relationship between the nations.”

Jewish Community President Abraham David Nonoo, Jewish community member and former Bahraini Ambassador to the US Houda Nonoo, Israeli Ambassador Naeh and other senior officials also attended the meeting.

According to a statement TV7 obtained from the Prime Minister’s Media Advisor, Bennett thanked the members of the Jewish community for the warm reception and noted that their community “plays a central role in realizing the peace accords between the two countries” as a living bridge between the nation-state of the Jewish people and the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The Jewish community is “regarded highly by the Bahraini leadership while serving as a model for cooperation between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East in general and in Bahrain in particular,” he added.

The Israeli leader marked the historic visit by presenting the Jewish community leaders with a “shofar” ram’s-horn trumpet that is used during synagogue services for the Rosh Hashanah New Year and Yom Kippur Day of Atonement.

Opportunities for Jewish and Muslim economic entrepreneurs and business owners was once of the key topics discussed during Bennett’s subsequent meetings later today with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani; Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani; and Transportation and Telecommunications, and Works and Agriculture Minister Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed.

The sides also discussed deepening cooperation in innovation, the economy and technology, as well as strategies to utilize the geographical advantages of both nations for the movement of goods between Asia and Europe.

“I want to thank my friends for such a generous and warm welcome. I come here on the first official visit of an Israeli prime minister in Bahrain, but it’s not only symbolic,”  Prime Minister Bennett told the ministers, underscoring that his “goal during this visit is to inject content into the Abraham Accords in trade, in people-to-people connections, and in all dimensions, and I’m very much looking forward to this day.”

Bahraini Foreign Minister Al Zayani thanked Bennett for coming, saying, “You are welcome here in Bahrain. We were so delighted and we look forward for fruitful discussions and great outcomes for the meetings scheduled today with his Majesty and his Royal Highness. You are among friends; you are welcome.”

Prime Minister Bennett responded, “I feel that already. Thank you.”

Prime Minister Bennett also praised the bilateral research and development (R&D)agreement signed in a virtual ceremony between Jerusalem and Manama yesterday.

According to the pact, signed by Israeli Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen with Bahrain Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid, the countries will work together to advance R&D for joint products and technologies by means of joint pilot programs in climate, advanced manufacturing and e-commerce.

“This would be of significant potential benefit to the Israeli eco-system regarding the advancement of market technologies given that Bahrain is a gateway to the Gulf Cooperation Council and has offered direct access to Saudi Arabia and additional regional markets,” said an Israeli government statement, adding that the “agreement creates a platform for business and technological cooperation alongside interpersonal encounters between people of both countries. Young Israeli high-tech personnel will travel to Bahrain and meet local businesspeople.”

The Israeli government statement also revealed that “Negotiations on an investment protection agreement between the two countries’ finance ministries will also be expedited,” as part of the agreement that “will provide for an increased flow of mutual investments between the countries by creating a framework of certainty and security in the business sector and will also be an important tool in strengthening bilateral economic activity.”

Prime Minister Bennett also used his visit to the Bahraini capital to visit the Headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, where he was warmly received by NAVCENT Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper.

Prime Minister Bennett described the US Fifth Fleet as “a significant element in maintaining regional stability in the face of various security threats,” and expressed his expectation “that the joint work between the countries in the region and the strong US ally will continue to develop,” said Israeli government statement, while going on to praise “the cooperation between the IDF and the US Armed Forces” which he said “contributes to the security of both countries.”

The meeting with the top American resident officer in the Middle East comes at a time when the US Fifth Fleet is hosting a multilateral naval exercise, involving the first publicly acknowledged joint participation by the Israeli and Saudi Arabian navies. While the activity is significant, military sources told TV7 on condition of anonymity that the Israeli Navy is primarily engaged with its US counterpart with only limited contact with other national forces.

Bahrain is apparently proactively assisting Israel in widening its circle of peace. Deputy Director General of the Middle East Desk at the Foreign Ministry Oded Yosef revealed during an interview with Army Radio that Manama is helping Jerusalem to reach accords with others in the region, most notably including Riyadh.

“We definitely are consulting with Bahrain on this. This is a very important goal for us. In the end, the majority of the countries in the region want to create a structure in the Middle East that will promote stability and prosperity,” said Yosef.

It has been reported that as part of the rapidly deepening relations between Israel and its new Gulf partners, Jerusalem has with Washington’s consent offered to cooperate on aerial defense at a time when Iran, by means of its proxies, has repeatedly launched ballistic missile and armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks on peace partner the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

12 civilians were wounded in the most recent strike by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen this past Thursday on the Saudi Abha International Airport. The Saudi-led coalition responded with an aerial strike on the insurgents’ telecommunications facility in Sana’a from which the attack drones are controlled, after warning civilians to evacuate the compound.