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Bahraini king dismisses senior official who refused to shake hands with Israeli ambassador

The official is a member of the royal family and has been called the sixth most powerful woman in the Arab world

Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa (Photo: Bahrain Embassy UK/Twitter)

The Bahraini king dismissed a senior official after she refused to shake hands with the Israeli ambassador, Arab media reported on Friday.

The dismissed senior official, Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, is a member the royal family and had served as the chief of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities until recently. 

The diplomatic snub reportedly happened last month during a funeral service for the father of U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Steven C. Bondy. The Bahraini official reportedly left the ceremony to protest the presence of Eitan Na’eh, Israel’s first-ever ambassador to Bahrain

Despite the dismissal, a government spokesperson stressed Al Khalifa’s 20-year service “with distinction” on behalf of the kingdom. 

“Wide-ranging changes announced this week within a number of government bodies follow on from the largest cabinet reshuffle in the kingdom’s history,” said an official government statement, with no elaboration on the dismissal. “Updates to leadership positions within public sector bodies should not be misinterpreted.” 

Despite being considered a controversial figure, Al Khalifa has served previously as Bahrain’s culture minister and information minister. In 2014, the Forbes Middle East ranked her as the sixth most powerful woman in the Arab world. 

The Bahraini king’s decision to dismiss the official coincided with a phone conversation he had with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on July 21. 

“Today, I spoke with my friend, His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince and prime minister of Bahrain. Israel and Bahrain share a vision for a more stable and prosperous Middle East, and we’re working together to make that vision a reality,” Lapid wrote on social media following his phone call with the Bahraini king. 

While the king appeared embarrassed by the Israel snub, the Gaza-based Islamist terrorist organization Hamas welcomed it. 

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem articulated support for the dismissed Al Khalifa and praised her action as a “true reflection of the Bahraini people’s genuine stance in support of Palestinians.” 

Israel and Bahrain established full diplomatic relations in September 2020, through the historic Abraham Accords brokered by the U.S. administration under then-President Donald Trump. 

Bahrain reportedly was prepared to formalize relations with Jerusalem even earlier. However, in light of its small size, Bahrain waited until its larger neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, took the step to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. 

Over the past two years, Bahrain has emerged as one of the Jewish state’s closest allies in the Arab world. In addition, the tiny Gulf kingdom is home to the United States’ Fifth Fleet, a naval fleet responsible for the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and other parts of the Indian Ocean.

Like other wealthy Gulf states, Bahrain has become increasingly vulnerable to Iranian-backed drone attacks throughout the Persian Gulf and the wider Middle East. This growing threat has increased the demand for Israeli drone technologies. 

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Israel has agreed to sell advanced drones to Bahrain, thereby strengthening the kingdom’s military capabilities. In addition, Israel reportedly will train Bahraini military officials on how to use the drone technology and related weapons systems. 

In February 2022, Israel and Bahrain signed a historic security agreement during Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s visit to Bahrain. 

“We have reached new heights today in Israel-Bahrain relations, with the important meetings that took place and with the signing of the historic [Memorandum of Understanding]. We are building on the ground-breaking Abraham Accords and deepening ties between our nations,” Gantz said. “Only one year following the signing of the accords, we have achieved an important defense agreement, which will contribute to the security of both countries and the stability of the region.”

Read more: BAHRAIN

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

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