Nov 24, 2021 - World

Israeli diplomat: New regional alliances "keep the Iranians up at night"

The Israeli flag next to a sign at the Israeli embassy in Bahrain

Photo: Mazen Mahdi AFP via Getty

MANAMA, Bahrain — The diplomat who transitioned Israel's secret relationship with Bahrain into a public one tells Axios that Israel's burgeoning partnerships in the region "keep the Iranians up at night."

What he's saying: "The Iranians opened a front against us in Syria and Lebanon, but now when they look across the Gulf, they see us there with our allies very close to them," says Itay Tagner, the outgoing head of mission at the new Israeli Embassy in Bahrain, who previously led the secret Israeli diplomatic mission in Manama.

  • Since the Abraham Accords, the countries have focused primarily on economic cooperation, but the Bahrainis have made clear they “will not shy away” from coordinating on Iran, Tagner told me when we met on Friday on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue, a security forum focused largely on Iran.
  • Relations with Israel are part of Bahrain's security strategy due to the threat from Tehran, Tagner says.
  • “When we speak about Iran, the Bahrainis know what we are talking about. Iran is 90 miles away,“ he said, noting that Iranian drones fly above the country on the way to attack Saudi Arabia.

One clear signal came in August when the undersecretary of the Bahraini Foreign Ministry, Abdullah bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, visited Israel and released a photo from a meeting with the Israeli general in charge of operations against Iran.

  • “A picture is worth a thousand words, but Sheikh Abdulla personally approved the press release that accompanied the photo and stressed that both countries agreed to enhance security cooperation," Tagner tells me.
  • When I met Sheikh Abdullah on Friday, he told me Bahrain had put forward a comprehensive strategy for “warm peace” with Israel in all dimensions of the relationship.

Flashback: Tagner recalled watching the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords alongside a Bahraini friend who had just paid $250,000 to book a seat on a flight to space in 2024.

  • “He told me that until a few weeks before, he was sure he would be able to travel to space before he ever traveled to Israel. This tells you all you need to know about what happened here in the last year," Tagner said.

What's next: Tagner leaves Bahrain this week after 15 months and will be replaced by Ambassador Eitan Na'eh at the embassy that was inaugurated in September on the 29th floor of the Manama World Trade Center.

Go deeper