JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel and Bahrain agreed on Sunday to establish formal diplomatic relations, making the small Gulf country the fourth Arab state to normalize ties with Israel.
The US-brokered agreement provides for a one-day visit by a high-level delegation of US and Israeli officials to Bahrain.
Bahrain joined the United Arab Emirates at last month’s White House celebrations of the Abrahamic Accords, a pair of US-mediated diplomatic pacts with Israel. Although the UAE agreement with Israel formally established ties, the agreement with Bahrain was less detailed and included a mutual commitment to follow suit.
Sunday̵7;s visit seemed to complete the task, paving the way for countries to open embassies and exchange ambassadors in the coming months.
“It was a truly historic visit to start opening relations between the two countries, to have fruitful bilateral relations in both areas,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said at the signing ceremony.
The delegations were led by US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and National Security Adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Today we have taken the first official step in establishing closer ties between the countries,” Ben-Shabat said. “We were received with open arms, with warmth and cordiality.”
“This is an important step in stability in the region, in ensuring the prosperity of all people in the region and in the countries,” Mnuchin added.
Israel’s agreements with the UAE and Bahrain marked the diplomatic victories of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations.
But they have been severely criticized by the Palestinians, who have long relied on a single Arab position that recognition of Israel should take place only after the Palestinians achieve their own independent state. The agreements reflect a shifting Middle East in which shared concerns about Iran and business opportunities have overshadowed the Palestinian question.
Palestinians have severed ties with the White House, accusing it of unjust bias against Israel. U.S. officials, in turn, have cultivated ties between Israel and Arab states, hoping to increase pressure on the Palestinians to reduce past demands during the peace talks.
Bahrain civil society groups and opposition figures, who have been repressed against dissent for many years, have also spoken out against normalization with Israel.
Israel’s commercial flight El Al 973, a nod to Bahrain’s international telephone code, flew through Saudi airspace en route to Manama. Although Saudi Arabia has not normalized ties with Israel, it has signaled tacit support for the Gulf neighbors’ moves, reflecting common concerns about Iran.
The El Al flight landed at Bahrain International Airport on Sunday afternoon. The kingdom’s state television channels did not broadcast the arrival live. Bahrain’s state news agency later published photos of the arrival, acknowledging that Israeli officials had been there to sign documents “on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Israel, in addition to a number of memoranda of understanding in areas of mutual cooperation.”
In a rare recording, the Islamic State group condemned the move toward normalization with Israel, identifying the UAE and Bahrain, and accusing Saudi Arabia of “subjugating the Crusaders” and Jews.
“Now the Jews have come to you and are walking freely on your streets and countries, feeling safe, approved by tyrants and supported by your decrees,” said Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, a spokesman for the group. He also called for attacks to undermine the Saudi economy.
This was Al Quraysh’s first record in about a year.
Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab states to sign diplomatic agreements with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively. Other Arab countries may follow suit, with analysts and insiders pointing to Sudan, Oman and Morocco as opportunities.
The trip to Bahrain on Sunday also took place when the UN arms embargo on Iran ended despite America’s objections. Bahrain, like several other Arab states in the Persian Gulf, sees Iran as the most serious threat to its security in the Persian Gulf.
The Israeli delegation was scheduled to fly to Tel Aviv later on Sunday, while the Americans will travel to the UAE before heading to Israel on Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb attended in Beirut.