Bahrain joined the United Arab Emirates in striking an agreement to normalise relations with Israel last evening. Coming across as a dramatic move aimed at easing tensions in the Middle East, the agreement follows the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreeing to better ties with Israel under an America-brokered deal last month.
“This is a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East,” the United States, Bahrain and Israel said in a joint statement. “Opening direct dialogue and ties between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue the positive transformation of the Middle East and increase stability, security, and prosperity in the region,” it said.
US President Donald Trump tweeted the news after he spoke by phone to both Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said.
The deal with the UAE is scheduled to be signed on 15 September at a White House ceremony. Trump will host the event and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan will attend it.
The easing of relations with Israel comes amid a backdrop of shared fears about the threat of Iran to the region.
The Trump administration has tried to coax other Sunni Arab countries to engage with Israel. The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, has signalled it is not ready.
Bahrain, a small island state, is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and the site of the US Navy’s regional headquarters. Riyadh in 2011 sent troops to Bahrain to help quell an uprising and, alongside Kuwait and the UAE, in 2018 offered Bahrain a $10 billion economic bailout.
This is interesting, given that Bahrain is a Shi’ah-majority (70%) country. Nevertheless, the people of Bahrain are Arabs.
The Friday deal makes Bahrain the fourth Arab country to reach such an agreement with Israel since exchanging embassies with Egypt and Jordan decades ago.
Of the four countries, Egypt is one where the Arab identity is fluid. The country’s official name is the Arab Republic of Egypt. It is a member of the Arab League and its people speak Arabic. To an outsider, Egypt is in fact an Arab country… Most of Egypt’s Copts maintain that they are the purest bloodline to have descended from the ancient Egyptians, says The Guardian.
Last week, Bahrain said it would allow flights between Israel and the UAE to use its airspace. This followed a Saudi decision to allow an Israeli commercial airliner to fly over it on the way to the UAE.