Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 3 December 2020

Bahrain and Israel vow 'warm peace' after Abraham Accord

Officials hope both countries will mark embassy opening by end of the year

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani address a press conference after their meeting in Jerusalem on November 18, 2020. EPA
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani address a press conference after their meeting in Jerusalem on November 18, 2020. EPA

Bahrain and Israel said on Wednesday they would open embassies, establish online visa systems and launch weekly flights between the countries soon, in a broadened co-operation promoted by Washington as an economic boon and means of isolating Iran.

On the first official visit by Bahraini officials to Israel, the Gulf kingdom's foreign minister, Abdullatif Al Zayani, said a September 15 deal normalising relations spelt "a warm peace that will deliver clear benefits to our peoples".

The UAE, which has also normalised ties with Israel, sent a delegation last month that did not leave Ben Gurion Airport in what was described as a coronavirus precaution.

In a possible sign of a rethink of the Palestinians' long-held opposition to normalising ties to Israel, a senior Palestinian official told Reuters that Palestinian ambassadors would return to Abu Dhabi and Manama after having been recalled in protest.

Mr Al Zayani's trip coincided with a visit to Israel by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who hailed the regional rapprochement brokered by Donald Trump's administration as it presses sanctions against Iran.

The normalisation deals "tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that their influence in the region is waning and that they are ever more isolated and shall forever be until they change their direction," Mr Pompeo said as his Bahraini counterpart and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked on.

Mr Al Zayani announced that, as of December 1, Bahrainis and Israelis would be able to apply for visas online. He also submitted a request to open a Bahraini embassy in Israel and said an Israeli embassy had been approved for Manama.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Askenazi, who is due to visit Manama next month, said he hoped opening ceremonies for the embassies would be held by the end of 2020.

The Bahraini delegation travelled on Gulf Air flight GF972 – a reference to Israel's telephone country code – in what was the airline's first flight to Tel Aviv. Mr Al Zayani said 14 such flights would operate every week, starting next year, along with flights to the smaller Israeli destinations of Haifa and Eilat.

Sudan followed Bahrain and the UAE last month in announcing the normalisation of ties with Israel. Further such developments appear unlikely before Joe Biden, the US president-elect takes office. Israel was due to send a first delegation to Sudan on Sunday, officials told Reuters, but the trip was postponed over what they described as logistical issues.

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Israel's Army Radio that a commitment towards a tough policy on Iran by Mr Biden would determine whether other countries would opt for normalisation deals with Israel.

Updated: November 19, 2020 02:32 PM

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