JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel and Bahrain on Sunday agreed to establish formal diplomatic relations, making the small Gulf country the fourth Arab state to normalize relations with Israel.
The agreement paid by the US ended with a one-day visit by a high-level delegation of American and Israeli officials to Bahrain.
Bahrain joined the United Arab Emirates in a festive White House ceremony last month marking the “Abraham Accords,” a pair of diplomatic agreements the US has given to Israel. While the UAE’s deal with Israel has formally established relations, the Bahraini agreement is less detailed and includes a commitment to each other to follow suit.
The visit on Sunday appeared to complete that work, clearing the way for countries to open embassies and exchange ambassadors in the coming months.
“It is really a historic visit, to start opening up relations between the two countries, to have fruitful bilateral relations in both fields,”; Bahraini foreign minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said, at the ceremony. signing.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Israeli national security adviser Benjamin Netanyahu, Meir Ben-Shabbat, led the delegations.
“Today we have taken the first formal step in bringing closer ties between countries,” Ben-Shabbat said. “We were welcomed with open arms, warmth and friendliness.”
“This is an important step in stability in the region, to bring prosperity to all people in the region and in the countries,” Mnuchin added.
Israeli agreements with the UAE and Bahrain have marked diplomatic victories for the Trump administration and for Netanyahu.
But they have been subjected to heavy criticism from the Palestinians, who have long relied on the unified Arab stance that recognition of Israel should come only after the Palestinians achieve an independent state of their own. The agreements reflect a changing Middle East, where sharing concerns about Iran and business opportunities overshadowed the Palestinian issue.
Palestinians have broken ties with the White House, accusing it of being unfairly biased against Israel. U.S. officials have also cut ties between Israel and the Arab states, hoping to increase pressure on Palestinians to reduce past demands on peace talks.
Bahraini civil society groups and opposition figures, already targeted at a long-term crackdown on conflict, also spoke out against normalization in Israel.
Israel’s commercial El Al flight 973 – a nod to the international dialing code for Bahrain – flew through Saudi Arabia’s airspace to Manama. Although Saudi Arabia has not normalized relations with Israel, it has signaled tacit support for the movements of its Gulf neighbors, reflecting shared concerns about Iran.
The El Al flight landed at Bahrain International Airport on Sunday afternoon. State-owned state-owned television channels did not bring a live arrival. The Bahraini state-run news agency published a photo of the arrival, acknowledging Israeli officials present to sign documents that “promote diplomatic relations between the Bahraini government and the state of Israel. , in addition to a number of memories of understanding areas of mutual cooperation. “
In a rare recording, the Islamic State group condemned the move towards the normalization of Israel, recognizing the UAE and Bahrain and also accusing Saudi Arabia of showing “submission to the crusades” and Jews.
“Here today, Jews come to you and walk freely in your streets and country, feeling safe and secure with approval from your tyrants and supported by your commands,” said the group’s spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi. He also called for attacks to destabilize the Saudi economy.
This is the first recording of al-Qurayshi in a year.
Egypt and Jordan were the other two Arab states that signed diplomatic agreements with Israel, in 1979 and 1994, respectively. Other Arab countries could follow suit, with analysts and insiders pointing to Sudan, Oman and Morocco as possibilities.
The trip to Bahrain on Sunday also came as UN arms embargoes on Iran expired despite the resistance of the Americans. Bahrain, like many other Gulf Arab countries, views Iran as the most serious threat to its security in the Persian Gulf.
The Israeli delegation is scheduled to fly back to Tel Aviv later on Sunday, while the Americans will head to the UAE before flying to Israel on Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed from Beirut.