Feb 16, 2022 - World

Israel PM focuses Bahrain visit on building anti-Iran alliance

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) is welcomed by Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Photo: Israeli government handout via Getty

MANAMA, Bahrain During his visit to Bahrain on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Bahraini officials discussed ways to build a regional alliance to counter Iran, a senior Israeli official tells Axios.

Why it matters: This was the first-ever official visit by an Israeli prime minister to the Gulf kingdom — which established relations with Israel 18 months ago and is located less than 100 miles from Iran — and it came as the nuclear talks in Vienna entered crunch time.

Driving the news: The Bahraini government took every opportunity to make Bennett's visit as warm and public as possible.

  • Two senior Cabinet ministers greeted Bennett at the airport, and a military orchestra played the Israeli national anthem as he arrived to meet the crown prince — a ceremony that was broadcast live on local TV.
  • Bennett’s meeting with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was also widely reported in Bahraini state and private media, and a joint statement published after the meeting stressed that relations would be based on a “joint warm peace strategy."

Behind the scenes: Bennett’s talks with the king and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa focused almost entirely on Iran and regional tensions, Israeli officials say.

What they're saying: In a briefing with reporters, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said the two sides discussed “expanding strategic and security relations to address regional challenges, including nuclear threats, terrorist activity and religious extremism."

  • In his own briefing to reporters on Tuesday, Bennett said his goal was to take practical steps to make it clear to citizens in Bahrain and Israel that they benefit from the Abraham Accords that normalized relations between the countries.
  • “The goal is to create a network of alliances in the region that will face regional challenges together and increase stability," Bennett said.

Bennett also met during his visit with the new U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, Steven Bondy, and the commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper.

  • An Israeli navy officer will soon be stationed at the 5th Fleet's headquarters in Bahrain as part of an international maritime task force.

What to watch: A senior Israeli official said a key concern for many leaders in the region is countering the Iranian-made armed drones used by several militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, including in the recent attacks against the UAE.

  • Israel is sharing its experience in countering drones with its new allies in the region, the official said.

What’s next: Before Bennett departed Manama, Foreign Minister al-Zayani announced that the crown prince had accepted Bennett’s invitation to visit Israel in the near future. He would be the first Arab leader to visit Israel in more than 25 years.

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