Bahrain FM arrives in Tel Aviv on first official visit

A Bahrain government delegation led by its foreign minister has landed in Tel Aviv on its first official visit from the Gulf kingdom, which normalized relations with Israel in September.

Abdullatif Al Zayani was welcomed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport by his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, a live Israeli television broadcast showed on Wednesday.

The visit came as the two countries look to broaden cooperation that the United States has promoted as an anti-Iran alliance and potential economic bonanza.

The delegation arrived by Gulf Air’s flight GF972 – a reference to Israel’s telephone country code – on the airline’s first commercial flight to Tel Aviv.

US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Avi Berkowitz, was also on the flight which flew over Saudi Arabia, which has so far resisted US appeals to normalise ties with Israel.

Bahrain and its Gulf neighbour, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), signed the US-sponsored normalisation accords with Israel at the White House on September 15 – pacts that were condemned as a “betrayal” by the Palestinians and their allies.

The agreements shattered a long-standing Arab consensus that there should be no normalisation with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Although White House officials have said more countries are considering normalising ties with Israel, further developments appear unlikely before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office and establishes his administration’s policy on Iran.

Al Zayani was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem later on Wednesday.

Israel’s foreign ministry official Alon Ushpiz told Israeli Army Radio the officials would continue work on memorandums of understanding signed in October in Manama covering air travel, visa accommodations and the opening of embassies.

Pompeo, during his two-day visit to Israel, is also expected to make the first visit by a senior US official to a settlement in the occupied West Bank.

All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are regarded as illegal under international law.

Their persistent expansion under successive Netanyahu-led governments has proved one of the biggest obstacles to the peace process with the Palestinians.

The US has close relations with Bahrain too. The tiny but strategic kingdom just across the Gulf from Iran is home to the US navy’s Fifth Fleet.