Israel signs defence agreement with Bahrain in Gulf first

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz (right) with his Bahraini counterpart Lieutenant General Abdullah Bin Hassan al-Noaimi on Feb 3, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

MANAMA (AFP) - Israel signed a defence agreement with Bahrain on Thursday (Feb 3), its first such deal with a Gulf country since establishing diplomatic ties with Manama and Abu Dhabi more than a year ago.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz, making his first visit to Bahrain, said the memorandum of understanding, that covers intelligence, procurement and joint training, takes the countries' relationship to "new heights".

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) normalised relations with Israel under the US-brokered Abraham Accords agreements in September 2020, defying decades of Arab consensus that ruled out ties in the absence of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Only one year following the signing of the accords, we have achieved an important defence agreement, which will contribute to the security of both countries and the stability of the region," Gantz said in a statement.

Gantz earlier called for deeper cooperation with Gulf partners to confront "maritime and aerial threats", as he toured the US Fifth Fleet headquarters based in Bahrain.

The defence minister toured the guided missile destroyer USS Cole, which is set to make its way to Abu Dhabi to help defend the UAE against attacks by Yemen's Iran-backed rebels.

The USS Cole was the target of an Al-Qaeda suicide bombing in the southern Yemeni harbour of Aden in October 2000 that killed 17 sailors.

The US base in Bahrain lies just across the Gulf from Iran. The waters are crossed by hundreds of oil and cargo vessels every day.

There has been an increase in attacks on shipping in recent years that the United States and its allies have blamed on Iran.

The Islamic republic denies the allegations.

"Against a backdrop of increasing maritime and aerial threats, our ironclad cooperation is more important than ever," Gantz tweeted. "We reaffirmed our commitment to stand united in defence of the sovereignty of our regional partners as well as peace and stability in the region."

A US-led maritime exercise involving 60 countries and organisations is under way in and around the Gulf, with Israel joining in for the first time alongside countries that do not recognise the Jewish state, including Saudi Arabia.

The exercise comes at a time of regional tensions over Iran's nuclear programme and Yemeni rebels' targeting of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates with missiles and drones.

While Saudi Arabia does not recognise Israel, the two US allies share a desire to contain their common foe Iran.

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