JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday was to change into the primary Israeli chief to embark on an official go to to the small Gulf state of Bahrain, a historic journey that highlighted the strengthening ties between Israel and a few Arab governments.
Mr. Bennett’s go to, unthinkable just a few years in the past, builds on a diplomatic thaw that started in 2020 when Israel forged formal ties for the primary time with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, and improved its relations with two different Arab states, Morocco and Sudan.
The go to underscores the shifting geopolitical priorities of sure Arab leaders who are actually extra involved about containing a nuclear Iran — a priority they share with Israel — than they’re about pressuring Israel to succeed in a swift conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian battle.
The unresolved nature of that battle had beforehand deterred all Arab states aside from Egypt and Jordan from formalizing ties with Israel.
A small oil-producing island nation of 1.5 million, Bahrain itself wields a lot much less regional affect than the Emirates, which Mr. Bennett visited in December, and which gives financing and army assist to allies throughout the area.
However Mr. Bennett’s go to to Manama, the Bahraini capital, hints at tacit assist for higher Israeli-Arab ties from a extra distinguished actor — Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s strongest state.
Saudi officers have mentioned that Saudi Arabia itself won’t normalize ties with Israel till an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached. However Bahrain is considered a Saudi proxy, and analysts imagine Bahraini leaders would by no means act towards Saudi needs.
Saudi troops helped the Bahraini royal household crush an rebellion through the Arab Spring in 2011 that threatened their energy, and Saudi army assist stays essential for the nation. Together with Kuwait and the Emirates, Saudi Arabia additionally bailed out the Bahraini financial system when oil costs plummeted in 2018.
Bahrain can also be an ally of the USA and homes the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bennett is anticipated to satisfy with the Bahraini king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, in addition to his son, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who’s the dominion’s prime minister and crown prince.
A Sunni Muslim dynasty that has dominated Bahrain since 1783, the Khalifa household presides over a primarily Shia citizenry that has lengthy complained of sect-based discrimination. The Khalifa household shares Israel’s fears about Iran, a Shia-majority state throughout the Persian Gulf from Bahrain.
Bahraini leaders have usually accused Iran of encouraging unrest among the many nation’s Shia majority; within the Nineteen Eighties, Bahrain mentioned it had foiled two pro-Iran coup plots. Israel has been combating a shadow struggle with Iran for years, and desires to curb Iran’s regional affect and forestall it from constructing a nuclear bomb.
Mr. Bennett’s go to started amid hypothesis that Iran and 5 world powers would shortly signal a brand new settlement to curb its nuclear program in change for sanctions aid. An earlier deal collapsed in 2018 after the Trump administration pulled out of the arrangement. Israel shouldn’t be a celebration to the brand new negotiations, however it opposes a brand new deal that doesn’t do sufficient to curb Iran’s nuclear program or thwart its assist for proxies in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
By flying to Bahrain, Mr. Bennett achieves a victory denied to his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who brokered the unique offers with international locations like Bahrain. However Mr. Netanyahu reluctantly canceled three visits to the Emirates and Bahrain final winter, partly due to points associated to the pandemic and partly as a result of Emirati leaders didn’t wish to change into embroiled in his re-election marketing campaign.
Mr. Bennett’s assembly builds on the regular progress since 2020 in Israeli-Bahraini relations, at each a state and civilian stage.
The journey follows a go to earlier this month to Manama by Benny Gantz, the Israeli protection minister, who formalized safety cooperation between the 2 international locations. Israel and Bahrain additionally participated in a joint naval drill, together with the USA and the Emirates.
The worth of bilateral commerce between Israel and Bahrain has elevated since 2020, rising from nothing within the first six months of 2020 to $300,000 within the first half of 2021, in response to knowledge cited in September by an Israeli official.
Israeli and Bahraini banks have additionally reached cooperation agreements, and their respective water authorities have agreed to share experience and expertise.
However Bahrain has not used its stronger ties with Israel to publicly push for concessions to the Palestinians.
Many Palestinians really feel betrayed by deepening ties between Israel and the Gulf States, whereas opinion polling urged a majority of Arabs throughout the Center East oppose the diplomatic thaw.
Myra Noveck contributed reporting.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/14/world/middleeast/israel-bahrain-bennett-meeting.html Israeli Chief to Make Historic Go to to Bahrain, Deepening New Ties