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Knesset approves peace agreement with Bahrain

What happened: The Knesset yesterday approved the agreement to “establish relations of diplomacy, peace and friendship between the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain”.

  • The agreement was approved by 62 votes to 14, with only the Joint List voting against.
  • During the five-hour session Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Peace deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and normalisation with Sudan have not fallen on us from the sky. It has come from a change in policy. In the last decade, Israeli governments have systematically nurtured our power when it comes to security, economy, cyber, foreign relations and other spheres.”
  • Relating to the Joint List voting against the Israel-UAE peace agreement, Netanyahu said: “Today you have the opportunity to make amends. And if not today, we will give you many more chances later”,  hinting that more countries will soon normalise relations with Israel.
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz told the Knesset: “The Abraham Accords can expand to other countries in the region, but, equally important, their spirit should extend to our closest neighbours, the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Palestinian leadership has not internalised the fact that the time has come to put the excuses aside, to get back to the negotiating table, to security and civil coordination, and to work together to find solutions… if not for yourselves, do it for your children.”
  • Yesterday in Washington, the Trump administration formally notified Congress of a $23bn arms deal with the UAE. The deal includes 50 F-35s, 18 advanced armed drone systems, and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement: “This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defence capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran.” Pompeo added: “This proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with US partners in a manner that is fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.” (QME)
  • Bahrain’s Royal Court announced this morning that the country’s Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, passed away at the Mayo Clinic in the United States. Khalifa was the world’s longest serving head of government, having served as PM since 1970.

Context: In an interview to Channel 12 News, the UAE Ambassador in Washington Yousef al-Otaiba confirmed the official Israeli narrative that talks with the US on sales of the F-35s only began after they signed the normalisation agreement with Israel in September.

  • The deal will make the UAE the first Arab country to receive the world’s most advanced fighter jet. Until now, Israel is the only country in the region to possess the F-35. There is concern within the Israeli defence establishment that more Arab countries will acquire them too. Reports suggest that Qatar has also officially requested to buy the fighter jet.
  • Two weeks ago, Israel had reached understandings with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper over maintaining Israel’s QME. The US agreed to an additional squadron of F-35s plus a range of other advanced weapons. Yesterday, President Donald Trump fired Esper along with a slew of senior defence officials.
  • During the Knesset debate Prime Minister Netanyahu took the opportunity to defend his record of working with the US Democratic Party. Netanyahu said, “For 38 years I’ve been investing endless efforts into maintaining relations across the entire political spectrum… I always, but always, meet with the leaders of both parties both in Congress and in the Senate. And when Senators and Members of Congress come to Israel, I like to meet each and every one of them — in times of peace, in times of war, at any time. Democrats and Republicans — there’s no difference. I believe that strengthening the bipartisan support for Israel is a fundamental component of our foreign policy. In the years 2017-2020, during President Trump’s Republican administration, there were 292 visits by Members of Congress and Senators to Israel—and that is a huge number. I met all of them, without exception. Out of them I met with 134 Democrats — that’s almost half — including the most senior officials of the Democratic Party.”
  • Leader of the Opposition Lapid responded to Netanyahu from the Knesset podium, saying: “Netanyahu’s attempt to claim that he has maintained good relations with the Democrats is embarrassing. His disconnect from what has been happening in the United States in the past few years is so great, that he doesn’t know what the Democrats and the new administration are saying about the person who established Trump Heights in the middle of a stormy election in the United States. Netanyahu took an uncalculated gamble and risked Israel’s special relationship with the United States. Only a new government will be able to fix that.”

Looking ahead:  Following the Knesset’s approval Israeli-Bahraini agreement will now be ratified by the cabinet, where it is expected to receive unanimous support.

  • According to Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, will soon visit Israel.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel in the coming days, and continue from here to the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
  • According to Kan Radio News that the Biden administration may want to review the details of the arms deal between US and UAE, even if it is approved by Congress. The sources said that they expected the president-elect to green light the arms deal, but he may try to insert a few restrictions into it.
  • Next week an Israeli delegation will visit Sudan to discuss the details of the normalisation agreement between the two countries. It is expected to be a small delegation led by the Mossad official who oversaw the process so far.
  • In the next few weeks there is also expected to be a second larger delegation that will focus on agricultural development and will stay in Sudan for several days.

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