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October 19, 2020

Israel, Bahrain to formalise diplomatic ties


October 19, 2020


Israel and Bahrain will officially establish diplomatic relations late on Sunday, at a ceremony in Manama as the wealthy Gulf region continues to open up to the Jewish state.

An Israeli delegation arrived from Tel Aviv for a one-day trip that will see Israel and Bahrain formalise a US-brokered agreement they signed at the White House on September 15. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became only the third and fourth Arab states to agree to normalise ties with Israel, following Israel’s 1979 peace deal with Egypt and a 1994 pact with Jordan.

A flurry of diplomacy between some of Washington’s key regional allies has handed US President Donald Trump a key foreign policy win as he campaigns for re-election ahead of polls in November. Bahrain and Israel will ink a "joint communique (that) is the establishment of full diplomatic relations," an official from the Israeli side, led by National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat, told reporters in Manama.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s special assistant for international negotiations, Avi Berkowitz, travelled to Tel Aviv before joining the Israeli delegation’s flight to Manama.

"Bahrain is obviously very tied to the Saudi economy and this gives them, I’m sure, an even broader vision," Mnuchin told reporters on the Israeli aircraft which flew over Saudi Arabia.

The two sides will be free to open embassies in each other’s countries after a ceremony scheduled for Sunday evening, the Israeli official said, adding that an Israeli embassy in Manama could open within months.

"The agreement represents a historical step... to achieve security, peace and a flourishing region," Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, said upon the delegation’s arrival. Israeli delegation chief Shabbat said in Arabic it was a "great day", adding these relations will "most likely benefit both sides".

Before takeoff, he said the aim was "to translate into practical plans and concrete agreements the peace declaration that was signed on the White House lawn". The normalisation deals with the UAE and Bahrain have however outraged the Palestinians, who have repeatedly protested and called on Arab states to maintain unity against Israel.

Like Israel, both Manama and Abu Dhabi have vehemently anti-Iran foreign policies and Tehran has slammed the normalisation. The Gulf monarchies have broken decades of Arab consensus that there would be no relations with the Jewish state until it had made peace with the Palestinians.

Bahrain, unlike the UAE, has a history of open politics and civil society movements, although rights have been curtailed in the past decade. In a rare display of dissent in the small oil-rich kingdom last month, dozens took to the streets in Abu-Saiba, a village near Manama, to protest the government’s decision.

In the wake of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, the monarchy accused thousands of dissidents from the majority of receiving orders from Iran. Shabbat said the visit would focus on "finance and investments, trade and economy, tourism, aviation, communication, culture, science, technology, agriculture and additional issues".

Israel said it expected to sign six to eight memorandums of understanding with Bahrain. Security cooperation is also likely to feature prominently in bilateral relations, with Israel’s Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen visiting Manama earlier this month to meet Bahrain’s security brass.

The Palestinians have condemned the Gulf agreements with Israel as "a stab in the back" for their aspirations to establish an independent state.

Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists more Middle East states want ties with Israel as priorities have shifted. Countries now value lucrative trade opportunities above the Palestinian conflict, he has argued.

Israel agreed to suspend annexation plans in the occupied West Bank in exchange for UAE ties but has expanded settlement activity since the deal was announced. Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has said it will not follow its allies Bahrain and the UAE without a resolution to the Palestinian issue. Israel’s parliament on Thursday ratified the normalisation agreement with the UAE, and a separate vote on the Bahrain pact is expected once the details are finalised.