What happened: On Friday, the White House announced that Bahrain is joining the United Arab Emirates in normalising relations with Israel at tomorrow’s signing ceremony in Washington.
- President Donald Trump hosted a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa where both leaders agreed the move. Netanyahu described the call as “a very warm conversation in which we agreed on the establishment of peaceful relations between Bahrain and Israel – the official establishment of peace with full diplomatic relations and with all that entails”.
- King Al-Khalifa told Trump and Netanyahu that a “just and comprehensive peace” between Israel and the Palestinians must be achieved and should be based on the two-state solution and UN resolutions.
- At the cabinet meeting yesterday, Netanyahu said: “We now have two historic peace agreements, with two Arab countries, which were established in one month. I am certain that we all welcome the new era. We are at the threshold of a new era. I want to promise you that each and every one of you, through your ministries, will be part of it because this is going to be a different kind of peace. This will be a warm peace, economic peace in addition to the diplomatic peace, also peace between peoples.”
- Similar to the UAE-Israel agreement, the Palestinian leadership was very critical of the announcement and of the Bahraini monarchy. Both Fatah and Hamas have called for Palestinians to hold a “day of popular rejection” tomorrow.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu is the only Israel politician travelling to Washington. The head of Mossad, Yossi Cohen is joining Netanyahu and said ahead of his departure: “This is a very exciting trip; it’s a very exciting event. Many good people worked on this story for many years – it didn’t start yesterday. I very much hope to see more positive efforts on behalf of peace and carry this forward to other countries.”
- The UAE and Bahrain will be represented by their respective foreign ministers, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani. At the signing ceremony, Israel and Bahrain will sign “a declaration of peace”.
Context: Israelis are encouraged that other countries will join in normalising ties after Bahrain decided to follow the UAE so quickly.
- Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, who are understood to have given their approval for the move. It remains to be seen if the Saudi Ambassador will attend the ceremony tomorrow at the White House.
- Both the UAE and Bahrain share Israeli concerns over Iranian aggression and its nuclear programme. In 2016, Bahrain led the Gulf Cooperation Council declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. In August, Manama said it foiled two attempts to smuggle explosives from Iran, with Hezbollah believed to be behind the operation.
- Bahrain has been the most open Arab country toward Israel over the last several years. In 2019, it hosted the Manama conference which launched the economic part of Trump’s peace plan.
- The announcement was also welcomed by Oman, who does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel. The Omani government statement said: “The sultanate hopes this new strategic path taken by some Arab countries will contribute to bringing about a peace based on an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and on establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital.” In 2018, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Oman and met with then-Omani leader Sultan Qaboos.
- This is another success for US diplomacy. President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Manama, the capital of Bahrain, in August and asked the king and crown prince to normalise relations with Israel.
- According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, “the rulers of Bahrain will henceforth be complicit for the crimes of the Zionist regime, as a constant threat to the security of the region and of the Muslim world.”
Looking ahead: The agreement with the UAE is expected to be defined as a “peace treaty” and will cover cooperation in range of fields, including finance, health, cyber-security, culture and tourism, space, science and investments, innovation and trade, as well as full diplomatic relations. The agreement will then need to be ratified by the Knesset, which should be a formality as it enjoys widespread support.
- Netanyahu and Trump are expected to discuss how to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge with the US looking to sell F-35s and other advanced security equipment to the UAE.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu will return to Israel ahead of the overall closure on Friday.