Religion

Bahrain Foreign Minister in Israel on first official visit

By AFP and Al-Mashareq

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Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani delivers a statement upon the arrival of a US-Israeli delegation at the Bahrain International Airport in this file photo from October 18th. Al-Zayani arrived in Israel November 18th in the first official visit by a senior Bahraini official. [Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP]

Bahrain's foreign minister Abdullatif al-Zayani arrived in Israel Wednesday (November 18th), the first official visit by a senior Bahraini official since the two countries normalised relations in September.

Al-Zayani was welcomed at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport by his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, a live Israeli television broadcast showed.

The Bahrain News Agency said the visit would "affirm Bahrain's strong and permanent position in favour of supporting the peace process" and be focused on "the economic opportunities and bilateral accords with Israel".

Bahrain and the UAE both signed US-sponsored normalisation accords with Israel on September 15th.

The Abraham Accords reflect a changing dynamic in the region, where countries now recognise the need for regional co-operation to counter Iranian influence.

Al-Zayani was due to hold talks in Jerusalem later Wednesday with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was to arrive in Israel in the afternoon.

The US has close relations with both Israel and Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Al-Zayani's visit is expected to be followed by others.

UAE led the way

On Tuesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent an official invitation to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayad Al-Nahyan.

Israel and the UAE last month signed agreements on visa-free travel, civil aviation, investment protection, and science and technology during a first official Emirati visit to Israel.

The UAE led the way in forging ties between the Gulf and Israel, announcing its decision in August, before Bahrain followed suit a month later.

Etihad Airways, the UAE's national carrier, announced Monday it will start direct flights to Israel in March 2021.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline "will launch daily scheduled year-round flights to Tel Aviv", it said in a statement.

The service will begin on March 28th -- a date that will fall approximately six months after the UAE signed the deal to formalise relations with Israel.

"The commencement of scheduled flights is a historic moment and as an airline, cements Etihad's commitment to growing opportunities for trade and tourism," said Mohammad al-Bulooki, Chief Operating Officer of Etihad Aviation Group.

Dubai's budget airline flydubai had already announced it would start direct flights to Tel Aviv this month, operating 14 flights a week.

'Let there be light'

In another sign of improved relations, Bahraini Jews on November 9th marked the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass -- the first commemoration of its kind in Muslim-majority Bahrain.

The disused synagogue in Manama -- the only one in the kingdom, which is home to some 50 Bahraini Jews -- was illuminated at night "to shine light over the darkness of hate", organisers said.

Kristallnacht marks the 1938 torching and ransacking of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses across Germany by Nazi mobs.

It was held this year under the "Let There Be Light" hashtag, a global virtual campaign against anti-semitism, racism, intolerance and hatred, organisers International March of the Living said.

Ebrahim Nonoo, head of Bahrain's Jewish community, said the synagogue in Manama has not been functional since 1948 but plans are under way to renovate it and re-open it to worshippers next year.

"We have had a long history of connection with Jewish people, but we are Bahrainis first," he said.

Nonoo, a former member of the consultative Shura Council, said it was a "great honour" for his community to take part in the commemoration.

He said there are very "interesting prospects" that can come out of the normalisation of ties with Israel, noting that "it is good for tourism, both ways".

"The hotels, already, have prepared themselves for kosher foods," he said, adding that the eventual arrival of Israeli tourists will help keep the synagogue open.

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