Israel, Bahrain deepen new ties, agree to open embassies

·3-min read

Bahrain and Israel said on Wednesday they would open embassies, establish online visa systems and launch weekly flights between the countries soon, in a broadened cooperation promoted by Washington as an economic boon and means of isolating Iran.

On the first official visit by Bahraini officials to Israel, the Gulf kingdom’s foreign minister, Abdellatif al-Zayani, was welcomed Wednesday at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport by his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, a live Israeli television broadcast showed.

Bahrain and its Gulf neighbour the United Arab Emirates both signed US-sponsored normalisation accords with Israel at the White House on September 15, pacts that were condemned as a "betrayal" by the Palestinians and their allies.

The agreements shattered a longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalisation with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

The Bahraini envoys went on to Jerusalem, which Israel, with US backing, considers its capital. Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem for a state, have been outraged by the Arab countries' engagement with Israel while their own goals are unmet.

In a possible sign of a rethink, a senior Palestinian official told Reuters that Palestinian ambassadors would return to Abu Dhabi and Manama after having been recalled in protest.

Al-Zayani's trip coincided with a visit to Israel by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who hailed the regional rapprochement brokered by the Trump administration as it presses sanctions against Iran.

The normalisation 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", Pompeo said alongside his Bahraini counterpart and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Al-Zayani announced that, as of December 1, 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.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Askenazi, who is due to visit Manama next month, said he hoped opening ceremonies for the embassies would be held by the end of 2020.

Sudan followed Bahrain and UAE in announcing last month it would move towards ties with Israel. Further such developments appear unlikely before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Speaking on Israel's Army Radio, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said a commitment towards a tough policy on Iran by Biden would determine whether other countries would opt for normalisation deals with Israel.

The United States has very close relations with Bahrain too. The tiny but strategic kingdom just across the Gulf from Iran is home to the US Fifth Fleet.

All three allies – Israel, Bahrain and the US – see the mainly Shiite Muslim regional power Iran as a common threat.

Al-Zayani's visit is expected to be followed by others.

On Tuesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent an official invitation to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayad Al-Nahyan, seen by many as the UAE's de facto ruler.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)