Trump aide joins Israeli delegation on formal trip to Bahrain

Breakthrough seen by US as anti-Iran bulwark, potential economic bonanza

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (left) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin arriving in Bahrain, yesterday. Bahrain followed the United Arab Emirates in agreeing to normalise ties with Israel.
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (left) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin arriving in Bahrain, yesterday. Bahrain followed the United Arab Emirates in agreeing to normalise ties with Israel.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANAMA • An Israeli delegation accompanied by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin arrived in Bahrain yesterday to formalise nascent ties and broaden the Gulf cooperation that Washington has promoted as an anti-Iran bulwark and potential economic bonanza.

Bahrain followed the United Arab Emirates in agreeing last month to normalise ties with Israel, stunning Palestinians who had demanded statehood before any such regional rapprochement.

The breakthrough, overseen by US President Donald Trump, is a foreign policy flourish ahead of his re-election bid next month.

For the US allies, it is a chance to close ranks on Iran more overtly.

The Israeli delegation flew to Bahrain on an El Al Israel Airlines charter flight from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

At a ceremony with Mr Mnuchin before take-off, US Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz said that Israel and Bahrain would sign a joint communique "bringing forward tourism and banking and diplomatic relations".

Mr Mnuchin told reporters on the flight: "I think the opportunity is way beyond just investments. It's in technology, building various different businesses - and in the case of Bahrain as well, really expanding the opportunities for them quite, quite, quite dramatically."

Israel and Bahrain signed a "Declaration of Peace, Cooperation and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations" at a White House ceremony on Sept 15, a document that fell short of a formal treaty.

An official involved in the visit said the communique would upgrade the relationship between the two countries.

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, speaking in Arabic at an arrival ceremony at Manama airport, said: "This is a great day... We look forward, inshallah (God willing), to hosting you in Israel soon."

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani echoed the sentiments. "This approach of engagement and cooperation is the most effective, the most sustainable means to bring about a genuine and lasting peace, one which safeguards the rights of the Middle East peoples," he said.

The signing of the declaration, however, sparked anger among Bahrainis at home and abroad. Bahrain, where a Sunni Muslim-minority rules a Shi'ite-majority population, has said the deal protects its interests from Iran.

The Trump administration has been trying to secure more such deals for Israel ahead of the US election on Nov 3, and Mr Mnuchin said he hoped the process would continue regardless of who wins at the polls.

El Al Flight 973, a nod to Bahrain's telephone code, flew over Saudi Arabia, an accommodation by the Gulf powerhouse that has so far resisted US appeals to normalise ties with Israel.

Mr Mnuchin and the other American officials travel today to the UAE, where the accord with Israel has uncorked bilateral commerce.

Tomorrow, the US dignitaries will join the UAE's first delegation to Israel.

A Bahraini source said that a priority for Manama would be cyber security cooperation after a decree issued by the King last week to set up a National Cyber Security Centre, as well as tapping Israel's ecosystem for business start-ups.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2020, with the headline 'Trump aide joins Israeli delegation on formal trip to Bahrain'. Print Edition | Subscribe