Israel and Bahrain formalize diplomatic ties following US-mediated agreement

Israel and Bahrain signed a joint communication to formalize budding ties at a ceremony in Manama on Sunday as the wealthy Gulf region continues to open up to the Jewish state.

An Israeli delegation, led by National Security Council Chief Meir Ben-Shabbat, arrived from Tel Aviv on a one-day trip that saw Israel and Bahrain formalize 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 normalize relations with Israel following Israel’s 1979 peace agreement with Egypt and a 1994 pact with Jordan.

A stream of diplomacy between some of Washington’s key regional allies has given US President Donald Trump an important foreign policy victory as he fights for re-election before the November referendums.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s Special Assistant to International Negotiations, Avi Berkowitz, traveled to Tel Aviv before joining the Israeli delegation’s flight to Manama.

“It was, in fact, a historic visit to begin opening up relations between the two countries,” Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani said after the signing ceremony.

Al-Zayani touched elbows with Ben-Shabbat, who described the move as a “promising start” and said the Israeli delegation was accepted “with open arms, with warmth and cordiality.”

The two sides will be free to open embassies in each other’s countries, Berkowitz said, adding that an Israeli embassy in Manama could open within a few months.

Palestinian anger

The Jewish state’s normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain has upset the Palestinians, who have called the agreement “a blow to the back” and called on Arab states to maintain unity against Israel.

Like Israel, both Manama and Abu Dhabi have fiercely opposed Iran’s foreign policy, and Tehran has slammed normalization.

The Gulf monarchies have broken decades of Arab agreement that there would be no ties with the Jewish state until it had made peace with the Palestinians.

Unlike the UAE, Bahrain has a history of open politics and civil society movements, although rights have been restricted in the last decade.

In a rare display of disagreement in the small oil-rich kingdom last month, dozens took to the streets of Abu-Saiba, a Shiite village near Manama, to protest the government’s decision.

In the wake of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, the Sunni monarchy accused thousands of Shiite dissidents of accepting orders from Iran.

Security negotiations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed his cabinet on Sunday, praising what he called the “historic peace deal” with Bahrain, saying: “I hope I can tell you more about countries soon.”

The premiere insists that more states in the Middle East want ties to Israel as priorities have shifted.

Countries now value lucrative trade opportunities rather than positioning themselves in the Palestinian conflict, he has argued.

Security cooperation is also likely to have a prominent place in the bilateral relations between Israel and Bahrain, with Israel’s Mossad spy chief Yossi Cohen visiting Manama earlier this month to meet with Bahrain’s security brass.

Following the ceremony in Bahrain, the U.S. and Israeli delegations are expected to travel to Abu Dhabi to attend a business meeting, according to the U.S. State Department.

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has said it will not normalize ties without a solution to the Palestinian question.

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.

The Israeli parliament on Thursday ratified the standardization agreement with the United Arab Emirates, and a separate vote on the Bahrain Pact is expected once the details are finalized.

( Jowharwith AFP, REUTERS)