image Photo: Flash90

Israel, Bahrain formalize ties in Jerusalem

Israel and Bahrain will open embassies, establish online visa systems and launch weekly flights between the countries in the near future.

The announcement came during the first official visit by Bahraini officials to the Jewish State, as part of a wider cooperation promoted by the United States to advance regional prosperity and further isolate Iran.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed U.S.-brokered peace deals with Israel in Washington on 15 September.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani arrived in Israel with his delegation aboard Gulf Air Flight GF972, in symbolic attribution of Israel’s national telephone code. The event marked the airline’s first-ever flight to Tel Aviv. Al-Zayani predicted 14 such flights will begin on a weekly basis in the coming year, in addition to smaller Israeli cities such as Haifa and Eilat.

The Abraham Accords that normalized relations created “a warm peace that will deliver clear benefits to our peoples,” said Minister Al-Zayani. He affirmed that, as of 1 December, Bahrainis and Israelis will be able to apply online for entry visas. He also submitted a request to open a Bahraini embassy in Israel and said an Israeli embassy had been approved for Manama.

The Gulf kingdom’s top envoy travelled on to Jerusalem, which Israel, with U.S. backing, considers its capital.  The UAE sent its own delegation last month that never left the Ben Gurion International Airport in what was described as a coronavirus precaution.

Al-Zayani’s trip coincided with a visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who hailed the regional rapprochement brokered by Washington, which presses sanctions against Iran in the waning days of the Trump administration.

At a joint press conference in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Pompeo’s Bahraini counterpart, the top U.S. diplomat said that the normalization deals “tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that their influence in the region is waning and that they are ever more isolated and shall forever be until they change their direction.”

Following a trilateral summit in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted a press conference with Al-Zayani and Pompeo, saying, “This is a wonderful day for peace.”

Others in attendance included Bahraini Undersecretary for International Affairs, Shaikh Al-Khalifa, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Referring to Sudan, which also signed a normalization agreement with Israel mediated by the White House, Netanyahu said, “I want to thank President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and the President’s able peace team led by Jared Kushner for their leadership and vision in advancing this historic peace. Three peace agreements in six weeks; I don’t think it gets much better than that.”

“Today, we are making history again. This is the first-ever official ministerial visit from the Kingdom of Bahrain to the State of Israel. It marks another important milestone on the road to peace between our two countries and peace in the region,” said Netanyahu, adding that, “The peace between Israel and Bahrain is built on solid foundations of mutual appreciation and shared interest. Like Israel, Bahrain respects the past while embracing the future. Like Israel, Bahrain is small in size but big in aspirations. Like Israel, Bahrain has built a thriving economy by fostering innovation and free enterprise.”

He also emphasized that that “the free flow of ideas, innovators, entrepreneurs” between Israel and Bahrain will lead to the “unleashing a tremendously potent economic force and a force for peace for the benefit of both our peoples.

After specifically asking Foreign Minister Al-Zayani to convey to King Hamad “my heartfelt admiration for his visionary and courageous leadership, the Israeli leader explained that, “In 2019, His Majesty hosted a regional economic summit that brought together Bahrainis, Israelis, Americans, representatives from across the Middle East and beyond, and I think that meeting which was poo-pooed at the time was actually a harbinger of good things to come. It was a tremendously important step on our common path to reconciliation and peace.”

“Today, King Hamad and I are building a bridge of peace that many others will cross in the future,” he said.

Netanyahu also thanked Secretary Pompeo for his “unwavering friendship,” and asked that he “convey to President Trump my deep appreciation and the appreciation of our grateful nation for all he and his administration have done for the State of Israel and for peace. Israel and Bahrain have had many contacts over the years but very frankly, this day would not have happened, these Abraham Accords would not have been signed, without President Trump’s crucial support and leadership.”

Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem for a state, have been outraged by the Arab countries’ engagement with Israel while their own goals are unmet. But in a possible sign of a re-set, a senior Palestinian official told Reuters that Palestinian ambassadors would return to Abu Dhabi and Manama after having been recalled in protest.