The nominee for US ambassador to Bahrain told Congress on Tuesday that Iran poses a security threat to Manama and said safeguarding Americans in the kingdom would be his highest priority if confirmed.
Steven Bondy, a career foreign service diplomat who previously worked in the UAE and Afghanistan, singled out the Iranian threat while addressing US-Bahraini joint security co-ordination.
“The United States works collaboratively with the Bahraini government to address threats to the internal security of the kingdom, particularly from Iran,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing.
“This joint security work helps keep safe American citizens, investments, and interests in the country.”
Bahrain is of key military importance to the Pentagon and is home to the US navy's Fifth Fleet, with more than 8,500 sailors and their families stationed there.
“If confirmed, I will have no higher priority than protecting the safety and security of Americans in Bahrain,” Mr Bondy said.
The US has previously targeted Iranian-backed Hezbollah cells in Bahrain.
Last week, President Joe Biden's administration sanctioned seven individuals including citizens of Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for funnelling millions of dollars to the Lebanese militant group.
Mr Bondy described a strategic shift in Bahrain’s policymaking following the signing of the Abraham Accords last year. The agreements ushered in peace and normalised relations between Bahrain and Israel.
“This bold act represents a change in the strategic orientation of the Kingdom, and it opened the door to Bahrain and Israel developing their relationship across a wide spectrum of shared interests,” Mr Bondy said.
He pledged to devote resources to expanding and strengthening this relationship and also highlighted the historic nature of Bahrain-US ties.
“The United States and Bahrain have a friendship that goes back almost 120 years, when intrepid Americans established the American Mission Hospital and related school in Manama,” Mr Bondy said.
Last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid flew to Bahrain to inaugurate the opening of the first Israeli embassy ever in Manama.
Mr Lapid met with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa during his visit.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh called the visit a “stain" that "will not be erased from the reputation of Bahrain's rulers.”
But the path of Bahrain-Israel normalisation has gained momentum in the last few months with the exchange of ambassadors, direct flights and cultural visits.
Mr Bondy was nominated to the position in April. He speaks Arabic, French and Turkish, and is expected to be confirmed this month.