Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa has accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to visit Israel in “the near future.”
Abdullatif Al-Zayani, the Bahraini foreign minister, announced the plan during the visit to the kingdom Tuesday of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, which Al-Zayani said had included discussions of the “Iranian nuclear file and terrorism.”
Bennett said he was seeking a “new regional architecture” with Arab Gulf states – referring principally to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, who in 2020 normalized relations with Israel – against “enemies who are fomenting chaos and terror.”
Bennett portrayed his two-day trip largely as a common stance against Iran and its allies, including Yemen’s Ansar Allah, known as the Houthis, whose battle in Yemen against Saudi- and UAE-led forces has spilled over this year into missiles fired at the UAE.
Bahraini opposition activists said Tuesday that at least four people had been arrested in protests against Bennett’s visit in several villages inhabited by Shia, who make up the majority in the country ruled by the Sunni Khalifa family. Bahrain, which crushed protests in 2011 with Saudi help, blames unrest on Tehran.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa receives Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Sakhir Palace, Bahrain, February, 15, 2022.
After meeting King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bennett stressed the importance of a variety of links that have mushroomed between Israel and some Arab Gulf states since the 2020 ‘normalization.’ “We don’t have enough trade, we don’t have enough tourism – and that is what this visit is all about,” Bennett said. “I’m going to be your ambassador there (in Israel). I want to ‘sell Bahrain’.”
The two sides announced a research and development accord and that talks would continue on facilitating investment flows. Bahrain’s has severe fiscal problems with public debt running at around 130 percent of GDP. A bilateral security accord reached in February could give Bahrain access to controversial Israeli technology usd to monitor dissidents.
Israel’s Growing Military Role
The proposed visit to Israel by Crown Prince Salman will irk the Palestinians, who see ‘normalization’ as a betrayal of their aspiration for a state. Qatar this month reiterated its support for a Palestinian state as a precondition for ‘normalization,’ the stance agreed in the 2001 Saudi-drafted Arab Peace Initiative.
Bennett’s visit Tuesday to the Bahrain base of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet highlighted Israel’s growing military role in the Persian Gulf. A US official said Tuesday the navy was considering adding unmanned Israeli boats to its joint regional operations and was also interested in Israeli-made drones.
Officials also said Israel would become the 29th country to post an attaché to the fleet’s Manama headquarters. Meeting Fleet commander Vice-Admiral Brad Cooper Tuesday, Bennett said he expected “the cooperation among the region’s countries and powerful ally the United States will keep getting closer.”
After the warm relationship between former Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and former US president Donald Trump, Israel’s relationship with the US has been strained by its leaders’ continued opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which world powers including the US are trying to revive in talks with Iran in Vienna.