As recently as this summer, neither Israelis nor Bahrainis would probably have imagined visiting the others’ countries.
But today, the first Gulf Air flight from Bahrain to Israel landed in Tel Aviv today with a delegation of key leaders from the tourism industry of the Gulf country to hammer out the details for economicA opportunities and tourism packages between the two nations in addition to business agreements.
It was the second official Bahraini delegation to visit Israel in two weeks putting the Abraham Accords on a fast track. Bahrain signed the historic normalization agreement with Israel, along with the United Arab Emirates, on Sept. 15 in Washington.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin two weeks ago in a historic first visit.
As of this week, Israelis are already vacationing in the UAE — one of the few “green” countries where they can travel during the COVID-19 pandemic without being required to go into isolation either there or upon returning to Israel.
Now, Bahrain’s Minister of Economy and Tourism Zayed bin Rashid Alzayani and Israeli Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen are working on arrangements for their countries.
“The opening of direct flights, and the travel of people between the countries, is an essential step towards building peace between our nations,” Farkash-Hacohen said upon welcoming Al Zayani in Tel Aviv today. “I look forward to hosting the minister and his delegation, showing them a taste of Israel's scenes and heritage, and introducing them to Israel's private tourism sector.”
Members of the Bahraini delegation — including the director of the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority, the CEO and CCO of Gulf Air and the chairman of the Association of Bahrain Travel and Tour Agents — will tour Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Their trip lasts until Thursday during which time they will establish a bilateral forum to promote mutual tourism.
“For the past two months we have worked hard to turn peace from an idea to a reality, and the tourism MOU between the countries is an important step in that direction,” Farkash-Hacohen said. “The tens of thousands of tourists who will arrive from Bahrain and the UAE when the skies reopen will experience Israel in the best way possible. Such visits contribute not only to building peace between the countries and people, but also towards strengthening Israel as a tourist destination for millions of people from around the world.”
Eliav Benjamin, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Middle East section, said “that is real normalization: trade, meetings between ministers and businesspeople, flights and tourism.”
“It is an illustration of what we and what the Bahrainis want to see in our relations — progress in our cooperation. This is true normalization between our two countries: trade, commerce, meetings between delegations and ministers and businesspeople.”
Israel Export Institute chairman Adiv Baruch said that these days, “economic power relations outweigh diplomacy.”
Netanyahu is expected to make the first-ever officially announced visit by an Israeli prime minister to a Gulf Arab country in late December.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.