All Israel

Bahrain pragmatically embraces Israel ties, stresses Arabs’ ‘legitimate rights’ in disputed territories

Israel to provide Bahrain drones, military training

President Isaac Herzog with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al in the Al-Qudaibiya Palace in Manama, Dec. 4, 2022 (Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Israeli President Isaac Herzog made history on Sunday by becoming the first Israeli head of state to officially visit the Arab Gulf state of Bahrain. 

While Herzog used the occasion to praise the burgeoning Bahraini-Israeli ties as a blueprint for wider Middle Eastern cooperation, the Bahraini reaction to his visit was mixed with protesters at Friday rallies across the country chanting “Death to Israel.”

In rallies across the country, including in the capital, Manama, Bahrainis protested Herzog’s visit to the tiny kingdom by chanting “Death to Israel.” 

According to ParsToday news, Bahraini villagers trampled upon the Israeli flag and chanted slogans like “We shall never accept humiliation,” “Normalization is treason” and “Bahrain is the cemetery of Zionists.” 

The official Bahraini position is more nuanced and cordia,l and welcomed Herzog with an honor guard playing “HaTikva,” the Jewish state’s national anthem. 

Meeting with Herzog on Sunday, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa stated that Bahrain maintains a “firm position in support of achieving a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace that guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and that will lead to stability, development and prosperity for both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, as well as all peoples of the region.”

The monarch stopped short of mentioning the formation of an Arab state comprising the West Bank and Gaza, and neither Herzog nor Al Khalifa mentioned Iran, which threatens both countries. 

The Bahraini king emphasized the “religious and cultural diversity in our country, and the spirit of friendliness, tolerance and peaceful coexistence among the members of our honorable society of all religions and races,” while the Israeli president praised him for his historic decision to make peace with Israel in 2020. 

“You are at the forefront of making history in the region, where Jews and Muslims can dwell together, the sons of Abraham, and move forward in peace,” Herzog stated. “[This is] another historic step in the relationship between Israel and Arab states that signed the Abraham Accords, with the hope that more and more countries will be able to join the circle of peace with the State of Israel.”

Herzog and Al Khalifa reportedly discussed the possibility of expanding bilateral relations between the two nations, and the Israeli president acknowledged Bahrain as an example to the nations and urged other Middle Eastern countries to similarly embrace a mutually beneficial peace with Israel. 

“I believe that the single greatest opportunity facing the Middle East is a warm peace with Israel – unlocking the latent potential of partnerships with our dynamic, vibrant economy,” he said. “We cherish Bahrain as a trailblazer and pioneer in this regard, setting an example for the nations of our region.”

While Herzog has emerged as a respected world leader, the Israeli presidency is largely a ceremonial position limited to accrediting incoming ambassadors and tasking Israeli politicians to form governments. 

In practice, future Bahraini-Israeli ties largely depend on the relationship between the Bahraini royals and the incoming Netanyahu government in Jerusalem. 

Critics argue that Netanyahu’s far-right political partners Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir could undermine Israel’s relations with the Arab world. 

However, Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu signaled that he intends to strengthen and even expand Israel’s relations with the region’s Arab states. 

On Sunday, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdul Latif Al Zayani told journalists that his country is “truly looked forward” to working with the Netanyahu government. 

“Allow me at this point to congratulate Israel for the successful election that took place,” Al Zayani said. “And we truly in Bahrain look forward to work with the new government under the leadership of one of the major signatories and partners of the Abraham Accords.” 

Bahraini-Israeli relations have expanded into commerce, tourism and technological cooperation. 

The bilateral ties include a growing military component amid Iranian threats to the region. In February, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met the Bahraini king in Manama and signed an historic security agreement between Israel and Bahrain. 

In July, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had agreed to sell drones to the kingdom, as well as train Bahraini military officers. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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