JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday was to grow to be 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 a number of years in the past, builds on a diplomatic thaw that started in 2020 when Israel cast 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 some Arab leaders who are actually extra involved about containing a nuclear Iran — a priority they share with Israel — than they’re about urgent Israel to succeed in a swift conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian battle.
The unresolved nature of that battle had beforehand deterred all Arab states other than Egypt and Jordan from formalizing ties with Israel.
An oil-producing island nation of 1.5 million, Bahrain wields a lot much less regional affect than the Emirates, which Mr. Bennett visited in December, and which supplies financing and navy help to allies throughout the area.
However Mr. Bennett’s go to to Manama, the Bahraini capital, hints at tacit help for larger Israeli-Arab ties from a extra distinguished actor — Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s strongest state.
Saudi officers have mentioned that Saudi Arabia won’t normalize ties with Israel till an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached. However Bahrain is thought-about a Saudi proxy, and analysts imagine Bahraini leaders would by no means act in opposition to Saudi needs.
Saudi troops helped the Bahraini royal household crush an rebellion through the Arab Spring in 2011 that threatened their energy, and Saudi navy help stays essential for the nation. Together with Kuwait and the Emirates, Saudi Arabia additionally bailed out the Bahraini economic system when oil costs plummeted in 2018.
Bahrain can be an ally of the US and homes the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bennett is predicted 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 Shiite citizenry that has lengthy complained of discrimination. The al-Khalifa household shares Israel’s fears about Iran, a Shiite-majority state throughout the Persian Gulf from Bahrain.
Bahraini leaders have usually accused Iran of encouraging unrest among the many nation’s Shiite majority; within the Nineteen Eighties, Bahrain mentioned it had foiled two pro-Iran coup plots. Israel has been preventing a shadow warfare with Iran for years, and needs 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 alternate for sanctions aid. An earlier deal collapsed in 2018 after the Trump administration pulled out of the association. Israel is just not a celebration to the brand new negotiations, but it surely opposes a brand new deal that doesn’t do sufficient to curb Iran’s nuclear program or thwart its help 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. 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 need to grow to be 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 degree.
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 US 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, based on information 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 know-how.
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 steered a majority of Arabs throughout the Center East oppose the diplomatic thaw.
Myra Noveck contributed reporting.