Diplomacy

Bahrain formalises diplomatic ties with Israel

By AFP and Al-Mashareq

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Israel's National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat bumps elbows with Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani after a signing ceremony in Manama on October 18th, as US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin looks on. [Mazen Mahdi/AFP]

Israel and Bahrain cemented a deal officially establishing relations and signed seven memorandums of understanding on Sunday (October 18th).

The documentation was signed at a ceremony in the presence of other international dignitaries, fleshing out a US-brokered deal the two nations had agreed to at the White House on September 15th.

The Israeli delegation, led by National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat, had travelled to Manama from Tel Aviv on the first direct flight between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the first ever passenger flight from the UAE to Israel, Etihad Airways flight EY 9607 from Abu Dhabi, on Monday landed near Tel Aviv.

The carrier landed at Ben Gurion airport early in the morning with only crew on board, a spokeswoman for the Israel Airports Authority said.

The plane picked up Israeli tourism professionals, who are to fly to the UAE for a two-day trip organised by Israeli company Maman Group, she added.

The UAE carrier said it had made "history".

"Etihad has become the first Gulf airline to operate a passenger flight to Israel. And this is only the beginning," the airline said on Twitter.

On Sunday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump's special assistant for international negotiations, Avi Berkowitz, joined the Israeli delegation's flight to Bahrain's capital, Manama.

In Manama, the two nations' officials agreed to establish peaceful diplomatic relations and co-operate in the fields of the economy, civil aviation, finance, communications and agriculture, Israel's foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said it would co-operate with Bahrain's foreign ministry and noted that the two nations had agreed on the exemption of visa requirements for diplomats.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, said the decision to normalise ties comes from the "belief in the values of tolerance... in a region whose people have suffered from wars and conflicts".

The two sides will be free to open embassies in each other's countries after the ceremony, Berkowitz said, adding that an Israeli embassy in Manama could open within months.

Security co-operation anticipated

Upon arrival in Manama, Israel's Shabbat said in Arabic it was a "great day", adding these relations will "most likely benefit both sides".

Al-Zayani stressed however that Bahrain calls for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to end the conflict based on a two-state solution.

Like Israel, both Manama and Abu Dhabi have vehemently anti-Iran foreign policies and Tehran has slammed the normalisation.

Iran has denounced the peace agreements because "peace threatens its very purpose", observers previously told Al-Mashareq.

Any efforts to end regional conflicts will undermine the very foundation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its foreign arm, the Quds Force, political researcher Abdul Nabi Bakkar told Al-Mashareq.

"It would also eliminate its justification to recruit regional militia forces," he said.

"How come the Abraham Accords are rejected [by Iran] but the presence of the IRGC and its proxies is acceptable? Iran is disconnected from reality," Emirati political researcher Abdullah bin Hamad told Al-Mashareq.

The US and Israeli delegations are expected to head to Abu Dhabi from Manama to take part in a business meeting, according to the US Department of State.

Security co-operation is also likely to feature prominently in bilateral relations.

Saudi Arabia has said it will not normalise ties without a resolution to the Palestinian issue despite signs of rapprochement.

But analysts have said Bahrain, heavily linked to Saudi Arabia, would not have agreed to normalise ties with Israel without Riyadh's blessing.

Israel agreed to suspend annexation plans in the occupied West Bank in exchange for normalisation with the UAE, but has expanded settlement activity since the deal was announced.

Israel's parliament on Thursday ratified the agreement with the UAE, and a separate vote on the Bahrain pact is expected once the details are finalised.

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