On Monday, Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made history, becoming the first prime minister to visit the Gulf State of Bahrain. Bennett said his goal for the 24-hour trip was to strengthen the ties formed with the Jewish state’s Arab neighbor in the 2020 Abraham Accords.
“During this stormy period, it is important that from our region, there comes a message of cooperation, goodwill, and a joint stand against threats,” Bennett said.
Israel and Bahrain share a common enemy—Iran. Over the years, the Islamic Republic has backed revolutionary groups in Bahrain, hoping to stir up the Shiite majority against the Sunni-led Kingdom of Bahrain and destabilize the country.
“We will fight Iran and its followers in the region night and day. We will aid our friends in strengthening peace, security, and stability whenever we are asked to do so,” Bennett said in an interview published in Arabic in a Bahraini paper Tuesday morning. “Iran supports terrorist groups active in your region and in our region for the sake of one goal. Iran seeks to destroy moderate states that care for the welfare of their people and work toward security and peace, replacing them with bloodthirsty terrorist groups.”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Bennett met with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the prime minister, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
“I see a very big opportunity here,” Bennett said. “I come from Israel with a spirit of goodwill, cooperation, of standing together in the face of common challenges, and I think our goal in this visit is to turn this peace from a peace between governments to a peace between people and convert it from something ceremonial to something meaningful.”
“Because of [Bennett’s] determination and leadership, this was a productive and successful visit. I thank you for coming here,” the monarch said in a statement.
Upon arriving at his meeting with the crown prince, Bennet was greeted by a military band playing Israel’s national anthem—Hatikvah.
In November, at the COP26 climate conference in Scotland, Bahrain Prime Minister Crown Prince Al-Khalifa extended an invitation to Bennett to come to visit.
On Tuesday, Bennett also met with Bahrain’s foreign, industrial, financial, and transportation ministers to discuss regional economic and technological innovation opportunities.
And Israel’s prime minister had the opportunity to speak with some Bahraini university students, and he invited them to visit Israel.
“The fault lines [in the Middle East] used to be between Arabs and Israelis. But now, the fault lines are between agents of terror and chaos — and people of hope,” Bennett said. “You see, the future of Israel’s relations with the Middle East — they don’t just depend on declarations; they rely on real connections. Between people.”
The prime minister also visited with Bahrain’s small but faithful Jewish community—about 50 people—calling them “family” and acknowledging their unique role in building a bridge between Bahrainis and the Jewish state. Last August, after 74 years of worshipping in secret, the community held its first Shabbat services at their newly renovated synagogue in Manama, Bahrain.
Bennett’s visit comes on the heels of a visit to the Gulf state by Defense Minister Benny Gantz earlier this month. Gantz and his counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding to “advance intelligence cooperation, a framework for exercises, and cooperation between the countries’ defense industries.” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited in September last year and opened Israel’s embassy in Manama.
Bahrain, a petroleum-rich nation—is a significant player in the region but not as influential as Saudi Arabia or others in the Persian Gulf. The island nation also has close ties with the United States—the US Navy’s 5th fleet is garrisoned there. Bennett also met with the commander of the US Fifth Fleet, Vice Admiral Bradford Cooper, while in Bahrain.
In another historic first, it appears that Israel will also be sending a naval officer to occupy an official post in Bahrain—an Arab country hosting an Israeli military dignitary! The as-yet-unnamed officer would serve as a liaison with the US fleet based there.
Iran’s belligerence and the Palestinians unwillingness to negotiate with Israel are, ironically, bringing peace to the Middle East.