Israel cements ties with Arab states as PM visits Bahrain

Talks in Manama mark first visit to the Gulf state by an Israeli prime minister

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett held talks in Manama on Tuesday with Bahrain's leaders as the country cements its ties with Arab states and increases military and intelligence co-operation against Iran.

Mr Bennett's talks with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the head of state in Bahrain, and his son Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who serves as prime minister, marked the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to the Gulf state.

“All responsible nations must make an effort to achieve peace,” the crown prince said, describing the visit as historic. “Not that there has ever been a war between us, but relations between our countries have not been sound.”

Mr Bennett said he saw his visit as a great opportunity.


"I come from Israel with a spirit of goodwill, co-operation and standing together against shared challenges," he said. "Our goal in this visit is to turn our peace from peace between governments to peace between peoples. We want to bring content, energy and vigour to our relations."

Mr Bennett’s trip followed recent visits by Israel’s foreign and defence ministers to the Gulf state.

Since 2020, Israel has established formal diplomatic relations for the first time with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, re-established relations with Morocco, and improved relations with Sudan.

Normalise relations

For years, most of the Arab world refused to normalise relations with Israel as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained unresolved, but the Abraham Accords, promoted by the administration of US president Donald Trump, went a long way towards ending Israel's regional isolation.

The fact that most Gulf states perceive Iran as a regional threat has prompted improved ties with Israel, which have taken on a new significance in light of the recent attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi militias in Yemen against targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Mr Bennett’s visit comes less than two weeks after the countries signed a defence agreement under which Bahrain will for the first time host an Israeli military officer as part of a regional alliance. Israel has also stepped up its naval presence in the Red Sea, a critical artery for world trade and Israeli strategic interests.

“Over recent years, we have strengthened our military co-operation with countries in the region, whether Arab or non-Arab,” Mr Bennett said. “We all understand that we face the same challenges, so why not work together to tackle them?”

He warned that renewing the nuclear agreement with Iran would be “a strategic mistake”.

It is highly unlikely that Manama’s decision to advance ties with Israel would have happened without the blessing of Saudi Arabia, although there is no indication that Riyadh itself is ready to establish diplomatic relations with Israel at this juncture.