FM Lapid makes historic visit to Bahrain

What happened: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Bahrain yesterday. He met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa where they discussed cooperation between the two countries and the threat posed by Iran. It was the first time the King met publicly with an Israeli government minister.

  • After the meeting Lapid wrote on Twitter, “His Majesty’s leadership and inspiration have led to true cooperation and our meeting outlined the path forward for our relationship.”
  • Lapid also met with Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani. During the visit, several cooperation agreements were signed relating to medicine, healthcare, sports, water and environmental protection. They also discussed relations with the Palestinians, with Lapid reportedly telling his counterpart that he supports a two-state solution.
  • He also inaugurated the Israeli embassy in Manama, accompanied by members of the small local Jewish community. Ebrahim D Nonoo, president of the Jewish Community said, “Today was historic for both Bahrain and Israel and an important moment for our Jewish community. We had the opportunity to speak with the Foreign Minister and hear from him about the significance of the Bahrain-Israel relationship and we shared some of the recent milestones and developments in our community.”
  • Before leaving last night, Lapid visited the headquarters of the US navy’s Fifth Fleet.
  • In parallel, the first-ever direct commercial flight between Bahrain and Israel landed in Tel Aviv yesterday afternoon.

Context: The Israeli government is keen to keep the positive momentum of the Abraham Accords, as they celebrated the one year anniversary last month.

  • Like the previous government the new government sees the potential of a regional alignment, in which Israel is part of a pragmatic Arab front against Iran.
  • In July, Lapid became the first Israeli minister to officially visit the UAE and opened the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and its consulate in Dubai. In August, Lapid flew to Morocco in the highest-ranking diplomatic contact between the two countries since the signing of the Accords. Last month Bahrain appointed their first ambassador to Israel.
  • The inclusion of the visit to the US navy base has been interpreted as a signal to Iran.  According to Haaretz the “two countries are looking into cooperation in responding to Iranian drone attacks, which is seen as a growing threat in the region.”
  • The countries also share concerns over malicious Iranian activity against ships in the gulf.
  • Earlier this week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Foreign Minister Al Zayani in New York ahead of his address to the UN General Assembly, along with UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalifa al-Mara.
  • Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz who accompanied the minister said the visit to Bahrain “is of utmost diplomatic and regional importance,” He told Israel Hayom, “The Israeli Embassy in Manama is the fourth Israeli mission we will have inaugurated in recent months. Every such mission is a bridge for diplomatic and economic activity on behalf of the citizens of Israel. Regional stability, economic prosperity and technological advancement are the tidings that this partnership with Bahrain, together with the Emirates and Morocco, bring to the entire region.”

Looking ahead: Lapid related to future cooperation in his joint press conference with Bahraini Foreign Minister, “The global struggle today is not between right and left, nor between Judaism and Islam or Christianity. The global struggle is between moderate and extreme. Between a culture of life, versus a culture of destruction and death. Today, together with all our friends in the Gulf, we are leading a brave coalition of moderates who are looking ahead to create a prosperous future of stability and tolerance. We live in a global reality in which those who are reclusive will disappear. Those who cooperate will lead both the world and the Middle East.”

  • The new Israel- Bahrain flight will operate twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. It will take less than three hours crossing Saudi Arabian airspace.

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