Bahrain normalization deal stokes fears of political exploitation in Israel and U.S.

September 12, 2020 - 21:58

TEHRAN – In a highly expected move, Bahrain and Israel agreed to normalize relations and exchange embassies. A West Asia expert tells the Tehran Times that the normalization deal is meant to serve internal interests in Israel, Bahrain, and the U.S.

On September 11, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he brokered a normalization deal between Bahrain and Israel, nearly less than a month after he brokered a similar deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on August 13.

Under the deal, Israel and Bahrain have committed to begin the exchange of embassies and ambassadors, start direct flights, and launch cooperation initiatives across a broad range of sectors, according to a White House statement issued on September 11. The statement also said, “As the President’s work continues, more Arab and Muslim countries will likely seek to normalize relations with Israel.”

The Bahrain-Israel deal comes on the heels of what the White House called a “historic diplomatic breakthrough” between Israel and the UAE. President Trump and many other U.S. officials have said that more Arab countries will seek to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.

“Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead,” the White House statement quoted Trump as saying.

In the wake of the UAE and Bahrain deals with Israel, there has been speculation in the media suggesting that Saudi Arabia or Oman would be the next country to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel, although both countries have yet to take any official stance on the normalization of ties with Israel. The Emirati and Bahraini deals were met with widespread condemnation in the public opinion of the Arab world.

As the U.S. president announced the Bahrain-Israel deal on Friday night, social media platforms in Arab countries including Bahrain were abuzz with anti-normalization rhetoric. In Bahrain, hashtags such as “Bahrainis against normalization” and “normalization is betrayal” in Arabic were trending on Twitter while President Trump was announcing that he secured a “historic deal” between Tel Aviv and Manama. This may be the reason why Saudi Arabia is still hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of normalizing relations with Israel.

Moreover, many countries and political groups in the region have denounced the Bahrain deal as a “betrayal” to the Palestinian people and cause. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry recalled its ambassador to Bahrain while denouncing the Bahrain-Israel deal as a “betrayal to al-Quds, al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Palestinian question.”

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, has said that the normalization deals with Israel had nothing to do with peace in the region. Instead, they are parts of a plan to establish a strategic coalition, according to an Aljazeera report.  

Iran also condemned in the strongest terms the U.S.-brokered deal between Bahrain and Israel, calling it a “disgraceful and humiliating act.”

“Undoubtedly, the oppressed and rightful people of Palestine, along with free Muslims around the world, will never accept the normalization of relations with the usurper and rogue regime of Israel. This disgraceful act will forever remain in the memory of the oppressed and suppressed nation of Palestine and the free nations of the world,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday. The statement also warned Bahrain against “any insecurity caused by Israel in the Persian Gulf”, saying that the government of Bahrain and other accompanying governments will bear the responsibility for the insecurity.

The government of Bahrain is really worried about the strong reactions to the normalization deal with Israel, according to Ja’afar Ghannadbashi, A West Asia expert.

“The rulers of Bahrain seek to strengthen their position and ensure the continuation of the West’s support for Bahrain. However, they are really concerned about the reactions to their normalization deal with Israel. They are unwilling to have troubled or susceptible relations with Israel,” Ghannadbashi told the Tehran Times, adding that the Bahraini regime is afraid of the reaction of its own people.

The expert further said, “Bahrain is a small but socially cohesive country. The Sunni and Shia people of Bahrain can give a political response to the normalization deal and make trouble for the Bahraini regime.”

The expert also weighed in on the goals the Israelis and the Americans seek to achieve through signing the normalization deal with Bahrain.

“The Zionist regime has been long dreaming of breaking its isolation by normalizing diplomatic ties with the Arab states. At the time being, it seeks to portray a powerful image of itself through making small achievements,” pointed out Ghannadbashi, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a weak position and he really needs diplomatic stunts to strengthen his political standing.

Donald Trump is in a similar situation, according to Ghannadbashi.

“With the U.S. presidential election less than two months away, Trump badly needs election aid and the backing of Zionist-affiliated media. Because he is under political pressure ahead of the presidential election,” the expert stated.

Reports in Arab media outlets have also linked the normalization deals between Israel and Arab states to the U.S. presidential elections, with some outlets saying that the Trump administration is now focused on securing another normalization deal but this time between Saudi Arabia and Israel, a move that could send shock waves across the region, given Saudi Arabia’s status as the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites.

“Trump is betting on pushing Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel before the elections, considering that such a move would constitute a big breakthrough,” wrote Victor Shalhoub, a Lebanese analyst, in an opinion piece published by the New Arab newspaper.

The analysts said that the Emirati deal with Israel was a preparatory move meant to pave the way for other countries to normalize relations with Israel. He also said the normalization deals are, to a large extent and perhaps entirely, associated with the Trump’s dire need to make domestic or foreign achievements, given his faltering campaign against his rival Joe Biden.