JERUSALEM: Israel is going to send delegates to Bahrain on Sunday to formalize nascent relations and broaden Gulf cooperation that Washington has promoted as an anti-Iran wall and a potential economic opportunity.
Bahrain followed the UAE in agreeing last month to normalize ties with Israel. Hence stunning Palestinians who had demanded statehood before any rapprochement.
The breakthrough is a foreign policy flourish ahead of Trump’s reelection bid next month. For the U.S. allies, it is a chance to close ranks more overtly with Iran.
Sunday’s delegation, led by Meir Ben-Shabbat, will be accompanied by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose office said the mission seeks “expanded economic cooperation” among Israel, UAE, and Bahrain.
An official involved in the visit said that Israel and Bahrain would sign a communique upgrading their relationship. From the declaration of intent delivered at a White House ceremony to a formal establishment of ties.
The delegates travel to Manama on El Al flight 973, a gentle nod to Bahrain’s telephone code. The Israeli airliner will overfly Saudi Arabia. Accommodation by the Gulf powerhouse that has so far resisted U.S. appeals to normalize ties with Israel.
Mnuchin and another senior Trump aide, envoy Avi Berkowitz, will continue on Monday to UAE, whose accord with Israel has uncorked bilateral commerce. On Tuesday, the U.S. dignitaries will accompany the UAE’s first delegation to Israel.
Though less oil-rich than UAE, Bahrain has geostrategic significance.
Ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, it was the only Gulf Arab state to experience a sizeable pro-democracy uprising. This was led by the Shi’ite majority population, in the 2011 “Arab Spring”.
But the deal drew anger among Bahrainis at home and abroad. Manama has said that the deal protects its interests from Iran.
A report by Israel’s Intelligence Ministry saw the potential for defense cooperation with Bahrain, describing it as threatened by “Shi’ite political sedition, directed by Iran and its proxies”.
Israel could also help Bahrain with renewable energy, food security, and banking and finance technologies, they said.