Bahrain’s ties with Israel could anger Iran

February 15, 2022 - 21:40

TEHRAN – Despite Iran’s repeated warnings about the dangers of Israeli presence in the Persian Gulf region, Bahrain doubled down on its interactions with Israel, a move that will most likely upset diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett landed in Bahrain on Monday for a two-day visit and was received by Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani.
 
The Israeli prime minister met with several Bahraini officials with whom he discussed “deepening cooperation, as well as various ideas, in innovation, the economy and technology.”

During his meeting with the Bahraini foreign minister, Bennett appeared to be getting carried away. “I want to thank my friends for such a generous and warm welcome. I come here on the first official visit of an Israeli prime minister in Bahrain, but it's not only symbolic. My goal during this visit is to inject content into the Abraham Accords in trade, in people-to-people connections, and in all dimensions, and I'm very much looking forward to this day,” he said. 

Bennett’s visit to Bahrain was done without much fanfare in advance.  And this seems to be due to security concerns about the visit. The visit, however, wasn’t surprising given the momentum Manama-Tel Aviv relations are taking on. Earlier this month, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz made a surprise visit to Bahrain. Gantz’s visit was unannounced too. It was announced only after the Israeli minister arrived in Manama. 

After Gantz’s visit, it was announced that a senior Israeli naval officer will be permanently stationed in Bahrain. The tiny Persian Gulf nation’s foreign ministry confirmed the appointment of the Israeli officer, saying it will be related to the work of an unnamed international coalition of more than 34 countries.

The abrupt announcement of the coalition raised further concerns about the potential insecurity of the strategically important region. Bahrain said the coalition’s task will include securing freedom of navigation in the territorial waters of the region, protecting international trade and confronting piracy and terrorism.

The appointment of the Israeli officer in Bahrain, which indicates that Israel will be part of that coalition, runs counter to Iran’s emphasis that no foreign troops should be tasked with maintaining security in the Persian Gulf.

In general, Iran has opposed any foreign military presence in the Persian Gulf. And it categorically opposes any Israeli presence, whether military or non-military, in the Persian Gulf. 

When the United Arab Emirates announced a normalization of diplomatic ties with Israel, Iran was clear about what that meant for security in the region. Tehran strongly criticized the United Arab Emirates for signing an agreement with Israel to normalize ties. 

“The rulers of the United Arab Emirates should know that they have gone in the wrong direction if they think that they can buy security for themselves by getting closer to the enemies of Islam and Iran,” then-President Hassan Rouhani said. He warned that “unfortunately, the United Arab Emirates has made a big mistake and we hope it would change its wrong tack. We warn them against giving Israel a foothold in the region, then they will be treated differently.”

Bahrain’s strengthening of ties with Israel will likely be seen in Iran as a move intended to harm Iran’s interests. Bennett himself openly pointed to this. In an interview with Bahrain’s Al-Ayam newspaper, he said, “Israel and Bahrain are dealing with major security challenges that stem from the same source, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran destabilizes the entire region.”

He added, “We are fighting Iran and its henchmen in the region day and night and we will help our friends in promoting peace, security and stability, whenever we are asked.”

He was responding to a question on the importance of a rare security agreement between Bahrain and Israel.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, during a recent phone call with his Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, stressed that "the presence of the Zionist regime [Israel] in the region is a threat to all countries and the region itself" and called for efforts to be made to prevent any foothold of the regime to prevent crises in West Asia. 
 

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