Israeli PM's Trip to Bahrain Sends Message to Iran to Stay at Bay, Says Analyst
17:08 GMT 14.02.2022 (Updated: 17:25 GMT 15.01.2023)
© AP Photo / Ilan Ben ZionIsraeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to reporters on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport before departing for an official visit to Bahrain
© AP Photo / Ilan Ben Zion
This will be the first official visit by Naftali Bennett to the tiny Gulf nation and it comes just days after Manama hosted Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who inked a security memorandum of understanding.
Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is expected in Bahrain on Monday evening for a two-day visit, following an invitation from the kingdom's monarch, Hamad Bin Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa.
It will be the first official visit by an Israeli PM since the two nations inked the historic Abraham Accords, a normalisation pact between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, in September 2020.
Boost of Ties
And Tamam Abusafi, a senior editor for Alayam Daily, one of the leading newspapers in Bahrain, says the visit is an indication of an "acceleration in the pace of development of Bahrain-Israel ties".
"This visit reflects the seriousness of both parties to strengthen relations in various fields and coordinate political positions between them at this very important time".
The visit comes against the backdrop of a series of nuclear talks between Iran, Bahrain's regional rival, and the United States, under the mediation of China, Russia, and several European nations.
Recent reports suggest that the nations might soon reach an agreement on Iran's nuclear programme. If true, Tehran would see Western sanctions lifted, while world powers would be able to supervise the Islamic Republic's atomic energy drive, making sure that the nation does not use it to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Threat of Iran's Nuclear Deal?
But as talks in Vienna proceed, some Gulf nations, including Bahrain and its closest ally the UAE, are worried the shaping agreement will not play in their favour.
Gulf states and Israel are worried that Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction under the pretext of nuclear independence, allegations that Tehran has repeatedly denied.
They are also concerned that the current deal, if it ends up being signed, will allow the Islamic Republic to win time, proceed with its nuclear drive, and secure funds that will not only make Iran stronger, but also bolster its allies in the region, including Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah and the Syrian government led by President Bashar Al Assad.
"We cannot be optimistic that a new agreement will not repeat the mistakes of the past. And we cannot rely on [American] words and promises [that the deal will be good for the region -ed.]. We need to see deeds and actions," she added.
The US runs two military bases in Bahrain, and the two states hold regular joint drills and share intelligence, but that hasn't prevented Iran from establishing its influence in the region.
Bahrain believes that Iran has been trying to cement itself in the tiny Gulf nation for years as part of its efforts to undermine its main regional rival, Saudi Arabia.
In 2011, with the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Iran has been given a chance to carry out its policies, establishing such groups as Saraya Al Ashtar and Al Wafa, movements believed to be linked to Lebanon's Shiite militia, Hezbollah.
Bahraini authorities believe those groups have been trying to undermine them for years, and they also think that a similar activity has been done in other states of the region, including in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
To protect themselves from this threat, Bahrain is now turning to Israel.
Earlier this month, Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited the kingdom, where he signed a security memorandum of understanding, the second of its kind after Morocco, and Abusafi believes the agreement is an important one, as it will bolster intelligence exchange, training, and military industry cooperation.
"Israel is an important country in the region and has defense expertise and intelligence capabilities. Bahrain has good experience in collecting information about extremist Shiite groups since the early eighties, and this agreement will allow both sides to cooperate in the security field in the face of common challenges".
Those "common challenges", however, might not only enhance cooperation - they might also pave the way for the creation of a NATO-like alliance in the region.
Last year, it was reported that the two countries had been trying to forge such a bloc, in cooperation with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Although there was no official confirmation from any of the participating sides, Abusafi believes such an alliance is a real necessity for the region.
"There is a need in such [an] alliance for two reasons. The first is that we need to resist countries that represent the face of extremism such as Iran that controls political decisions in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and to some extent the Gaza Strip under the rulership of Hamas".
The other reason is a regional attempt to decrease the US influence in the Middle East.
"This region has been relying on the US for years but as we see it their interests do not necessarily align with ours. Theirs are linked to oil and arms deals. Ours are to defend our existence and the future of our children, so we need to work together to achieve that goal", Abusafi summed up.