What happened: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett completed his two-day visit to Bahrain where met the Bahraini king, crown prince, cabinet ministers and representatives of the local Jewish community.
- King Hamad Ibn Isa al-Khalifa said: “This is an historic day, to host the prime minister of Israel here in Bahrain. Because of his determination and leadership, this has been a fruitful and successful visit in the mutual efforts for the benefit of the two peoples. I thank you for coming here.”
- Bennett responded: “I admire your courage and determination in building your country. We discussed the many ways to build new bridges and structures for a stronger, more stable region. I expect to continue the excellent relationship between us.”
- Earlier in the day Bennett was welcomed into the palace of Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa by an honour guard in an official reception. The Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa said: “All responsible nations must make an effort to achieve peace. We have never experienced war between us, but there have never been proper relations between our countries. We will now see a Middle East free of disputes, based on the principles of mutual respect, understanding and joint responsibility for security.”
- Bennett also gave an interview to Bahrain’s Alayam newspaper, where he said, “Iran supports terrorist organisations that operate in your region and our region in order to achieve one goal, which is to destroy moderate countries that care about the welfare of their people … and install bloodthirsty terrorist organisations in their place. We will not allow that. We are fighting Iran and its henchmen in the region day and night and we will help our friends in promoting peace, security and stability, whenever we are asked.”
- Bennett added, “I see Israel and Bahrain as close partners in all areas. The cooperation between us is natural. I expect trade between us to increase significantly, as it has grown, for example, with the UAE. I expect the volume of tourism to increase, of course after the coronavirus passes, and most importantly, I aspire for the two peoples to get to know each other better, through delegation visits, joint cultural activities, etc. We want a very warm peace with Bahrain.”
Context: Bennett has now met the leaders of all Israel’s Arab partners in the UAE, Egypt and Jordan, and now Bahrain.
- Although most of the formal statements related to expanding civil cooperation, the private meetings also focused significantly on security issues, included discussions on strategic relations, the Iranian nuclear threat and terrorist activity.
- Preceding Bennett’s trip, Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited Bahrain two weeks ago, where he signed a defence agreement.
- In September 2021, Foreign Minister Lapid officially opened the Israeli Embassy in Bahrain.
- All three senior Israelis visited the base of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and also met with US Naval Forces Central Command Commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper.
- Following Gantz’s visit, it was agreed to assign an IDF officer to be permanently based in Bahrain to enhance security cooperation.
- In parallel, yesterday senior Israeli diplomats travelled to Vienna to discuss the ongoing Iranian nuclear talks. They met with IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi and Russia’s envoy to the talks. They are expected to also meet the other parties engaged in the talks, including the UK as well as the US, EU, China, France and Germany.
Looking ahead: Israel and Bahrain have agreed to implement a bilateral 10-year plan called “The Joint Warm Peace Strategy”.
- The plan will prioritise areas of mutual interest, including innovation ecosystems, food and water security, sustainable energy, healthcare, education, trade and investment.
- The leaders also agreed to expedite the negotiations on agreements for the protection of investments and the joint work on a tax treaty.
- The countries will look to deepen ties between the Israeli and Bahraini peoples through cultural exchanges, and educational and academic collaboration.
- They also agreed that Israeli airline Israir will soon begin direct flights to Manama.
- Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, who heads the IDF’s Iran Directorate, was also quoted in the Bahraini newspaper Alayam saying: “We should think of establishing an alliance such as NATO, with Israel, Bahrain, the Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Greece and other countries that may join – dealing with Iran.”