MANAMA (Reuters) – An Israeli delegation accompanied by the US Treasury Secretary arrived in Bahrain on Sunday to formalize the fledgling relationship and expand Gulf cooperation that Washington has promoted as an anti-Iran defense and a possible economic balance sheet.
Bahrain pursued the UAE agreeing last month to normalize ties with Israel, astonishing Palestinians who had sought citizenship before any such regional rapprochement.
Progress, overseen by U.S. President Donald Trump, is a thriving foreign policy ahead of his bid for re-election next month. For US allies, it is a chance to close Iran’s ranks more openly.
The Israeli delegation, which flew a charter flight of El Al Israel Airlines from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, was accompanied by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in public remarks to his cabinet, said the delegations would work on co-operation agreements and the creation of a peace treaty.
Israel and Bahrain signed a Declaration of Peace, Cooperation and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations at a White House ceremony on September 15, a document that failed to reach a formal treaty.
In a ceremony with Mnuchin before the ascent, US Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz said Israel and Bahrain would sign a joint statement bringing forward tourism and banking and diplomatic relations.
“I think the opportunity is beyond investment alone,” Mnuchin told reporters during a flight to El Al. It’s about technology, building different businesses – and in the case of Bahrain as well, really expanding the opportunities for them quite, quite, quite dramatically.
THE EXCELLENCE OF RELATIONSHIPS
The Trump administration has been trying to secure more such deals for Israel ahead of the U.S. election, and Mnuchin said he hoped the process would continue regardless of who wins the polls.
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, speaking in Arabic at a ceremony at Manama Airport, said: “This is a wonderful day … We hope, Inshallah (God willing), that we will wait for you. soon in Israel.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani described engagement and cooperation as the most effective, most sustainable means of bringing about genuine and lasting peace, one that protects the rights of the peoples of the Middle East.
The signing of the declaration, however, drew outrage among Bahrainis at home and abroad. Bahrain, where a Sunni Muslim minority rules a Shiite-majority population, has said the deal protects its interests from Iran.
El Al Flight 973, a nod to Bahrain’s telephone code, flew over Saudi Arabia, a shelter from the Gulf power plant that has so far resisted U.S. calls to normalize ties with Israel.
Mnuchin and other U.S. officials travel to the United Arab Emirates on Monday, where the deal with Israel has unrelated bilateral trade. On Tuesday, US dignitaries will join the first UAE delegation to Israel.
Although less oil-rich than the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain – the host of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet – is of geo-strategic importance.
A September 13 report by the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence saw no potential for defense cooperation with Bahrain, describing it as threatened by the Iranian-led Shiite political uprising.
A source from Bahrain said a priority for Manama would be cybersecurity cooperation, following a decree issued by the king last week to set up a National Cyber Security Center and tapping the Israeli ecosystem for business start-ups.
Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Ghaida Ghantous and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Rami Ayyub, David Goodman and Alexandra Hudson
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