Contacts between Bahrain and Israel, discreet since the 1990s, have intensified in recent years until a historic agreement to normalize relations between the two countries was announced on Friday.
After announcing the normalization of its relations with Israel on Friday, September 11, Bahrain will be the second Gulf country to announce such an agreement, less than a month after that between the Hebrew state and the United Arab Emirates.
Like most Gulf countries, Bahrain shares hostility to Iran, accused by Manama of instrumentalizing Bahrain’s Shiite society against the ruling Sunni dynasty.
After years of discreet contacts, Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa began official diplomacy by speaking to Israeli officials at the 2000 and 2003 World Economic Summits.
The foreign ministers of the two countries met in 2007. Two years later, Israeli President Shimon Peres and the King of Bahrain also discussed in New York, alongside a UN conference. That same year, a delegation of Bahraini officials visited Israel on a never-before-seen voyage to recover citizens imprisoned by the Hebrew state.
The Bahraini parliament ignored the government’s objections and passed legislation in October 2009 banning all contact with Israel. The law must be approved by an advisory council appointed by the king, who rejected it.
Support for Israel’s right to “defend itself”
The Arab Spring of 2011 slowed down the normalization work between the two countries, with the monarchy facing major protests led by Shia Muslims to demand reforms.
In September 2016, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres paid tribute at the time of the Israeli leader’s death.
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In 2017, an Israeli delegation participated in the International Football Federation (FIFA) Congress in Manama. That same year, a group of religions in Bahrain announced that it had sent a delegation to Israel to promote “tolerance and coexistence.”
In May 2018, Bahrain’s foreign minister supported Israel’s right to “defend itself” after the IDF claimed to have targeted dozens of Iranian military targets in fighting Syria where Tehran supports the regime.
The first golf country to welcome an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates
In June 2019, an economic workshop organized by the United States in Bahrain opened the door to rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf countries. In an unparalleled interview with an Israeli journalist, Bahrain’s foreign minister said that Israel was part of the regional heritage.
One month later, the Israeli Foreign Minister announced that he had met his counterpart in Bahrain during a visit to Washington.
In October 2019, representatives from more than 60 countries, including Israel, gathered in Bahrain to discuss maritime safety.
Bahrain was the first Gulf country to pay tribute to the “historic” agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, announced on 13 August.
However, King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa told the US Secretary of State who was visiting the kingdom that he was still committed to the Arab peace initiative, which calls for a total withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.
Manama still allowed flights between Israel and the Emirates to fly over his kingdom.