Sunday, September 20, 2020

Reports: Bahrain to Normalize Relations with Israel

Israeli media reported on Friday that the Kingdom of Bahrain will normalize relations with Israel, following the same path as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which announced a peace deal with Israel on August 13.

President Donald Trump, who brokered both deals, was expected to make a formal announcement on Friday, while Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa is due in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

Amichai Stein, a reporter for Israeli public broadcast network Kan, broke the news. Times of Israel reporter Raphael Ahren later confirmed it, citing “two officials familiar with the matter.”

The Jerusalem Postalso said it has a source confirming that Crown Prince Khalifa is traveling to Washington on Monday to attend the ceremony on Tuesday where Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will formally establish relations.

As the Jerusalem Post noted, President Donald Trump hinted on Thursday that more big announcements about “peace in the Middle East” would be coming in a “relatively short period of time” and suggested that another country might join the UAE-Israel accord.

“Next week at the White House we’ll be having a signing between the UAE and Israel, and we could have another country added into that. And I will tell you that countries are lining up that want to go into it,” Trump said.

“I think what ultimately will happen is you’re going to have quite a few countries come in. The big ones are going to be coming in. I spoke to the king of Saudi Arabia, so we’re talking. We just started the dialog. And you’ll have them come in,” he added.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser, said on Wednesday that Bahrain and Saudi Arabia would open their airspace to all Israeli flights, not just flights from Israel to the United Arab Emirates, a major change to policies that have been in effect for seven decades. Bahrain’s role in this diplomatic opening is even more significant because it controls a good deal of the airspace over Qatar, another Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nation, which has drifted into Iran’s orbit and become estranged from the rest of the GCC over the past few years.

Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty but the population is majority Shiite, a cause of considerable political friction over the years. The island nation derives much of its national income from refining petroleum products and providing both industrial and financial support for the Gulf oil industry.

Both geographically and politically, Bahrain is an important player in the Sunni-Shiite schism, the GCC’s relations with Iran, and Saudi Arabia’s relations with Israel. The Saudi monarchy is close to Bahrain’s rulers: Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain during the Arab Spring unrest, and Bahrain was one of the first regional powers to stand behind Saudi Arabia during the controversy over the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. Bahrain and Oman have long been seen as the most likely candidates to quickly join in the UAE-Israel peace accord.

John Hayward

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