Israeli PM makes historic visit to Bahrain, deepening new ties

Israeli PM makes historic visit to Bahrain, deepening new ties

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Bahrain on Monday in the highest-level visit since the countries established relations under a 2020 United States (US)-sponsored deal based in part on shared worries about Iran.

According to the details, PM Naftali Bennett will meet Bahraini Crown Prince and PM Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa as well as other top officials, and representatives of Bahrain’s Jewish community. This will be the first high-level visit since the two countries established diplomatic relations.

A statement from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said that during the meeting, the two leaders will discuss the steps to be taken to strengthen bilateral relations, especially for further development of diplomatic and economic affairs.

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“The leaders will discuss additional ways to strengthen bilateral ties … especially the advancement of diplomatic and economic issues, with an emphasis on technology and innovation,” Bennett’s office said in a statement.

The two-day trip to Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s Gulf headquarters, comes amid heightened tensions after missile attacks on neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE) by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis. Israel also normalised ties with UAE in 2020.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to reporters on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod before departing for an official visit to Bahrain, Feb. 14, 2022.

Israel has stepped up cooperation with the Gulf states. Manama hosted Israel’s defence minister on Feb. 2 and has said an Israeli military officer will be posted in Bahrain as part of an international coalition. On the commercial front, Israel has reported rising trade with Bahrain that reached $6.5 billion last year. There are direct flights between the countries.

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The outreach by Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim monarch has been criticised by an opposition led by the Shi’ite majority. The country has seen protests in solidarity with the Palestinians.

It is to be remembered that Bennett’s visit comes after Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz went to Manama earlier this month. Meanwhile, the two countries also signed a defense agreement.

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