Pandemic a Slight Speed Bump in Bahrain-Israel Normalization
Ties nevertheless seen in kingdom as being off to quick, promising start
Although Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani has hinted at a speedy normalization process for relations with Israel, it appears that the global coronavirus pandemic will slow at least some things down.
During his historic visit to Israel on Wednesday, Zayani announced that Bahrain had accepted an Israeli request to open an embassy in Manama, and that the kingdom had submitted a request to establish an embassy in Israel, which is expected to open at the end of the year.
He also announced that electronic visas can be issued to Israelis beginning on December 1, with them joining the citizens of more than 66 countries to whom Bahrain grants visas through the website of the Interior Ministry’s Immigration and Passports Directorate.
Bahrainis will also be able to apply online for entry visas to Israel starting on the same date, he said.
What’s more regular commercial air traffic between the two countries will commence in early 2021. There will be 14 direct flights per week, five of which will be cargo flights, to the Tel Aviv and Eilat airports.
However, group travel appears to be at least one sphere in which normalization will take a bit longer, according to Bahraini tourism and travel companies.
“In general, these arrangements will take longer due to the decrease in global tourism because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Khalid Ali, the owner of a travel office in Bahrain, told The Media Line.
In general, these arrangements will take longer due to the decrease in global tourism because of the COVID-19 pandemic
“With the end of the pandemic, Israelis will find places in Bahrain they want to visit, at very reasonable prices, and the people of Bahrain will certainly warmly welcome their guests,” Ali said. “There are many events throughout the year that can be visited, in addition to restaurants and hotels working to provide kosher food for our Jewish guests.”
He also notes that it is a two-way street.
“Bahrainis are also looking forward to praying in the Aqsa Mosque and visiting historical places in Jerusalem, and this unfortunately cannot happen until the pandemic is brought to an end,” he said.
Semi-official sources who preferred not to be named said they expected the requirement to apply for entry visas to be canceled for the citizens of both countries sometime next year.
“Agreements will also be signed between Bahrain’s public and private universities, and universities in Israel, with regard to cooperation in the field of academic research and postgraduate studies,” the sources added.
“Cooperation on security and intelligence, and artificial intelligence, and trade between the two countries are among the most prominent things Bahrain aspires to in the peace agreements with Israel,” they noted.
Cooperation on security and intelligence, and artificial intelligence, and trade between the two countries are among the most prominent things Bahrain aspires to in the peace agreements with Israel
The semi-official sources said the invitation extended to Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to participate in the Manama Dialogue on December 4-6 confirms that security cooperation with Israel is very important for the region.
The Manama Dialogue is the largest political and security forum in the region, held annually with the participation of dignitaries from the Middle East, Europe, North America and beyond.
Businessman Ahmed Sabah AlSaloom, who heads the Bahrain Small and Medium Enterprises Society, stressed that these firms will be the largest economic beneficiaries from commercial relations between the kingdom and Israel.
“Small and medium enterprises will be strongly involved in trade between the two countries,” he stated.
“During the coming period, we must work on establishing a Bahraini-Israeli trade council to coordinate between the businessmen of the two countries and understand the commercial opportunities in the two countries. We expect that this will take place directly after the opening of the embassies,” he said.
AlSaloom notes that Bahrain is a “technologically developed country and Israeli projects in artificial intelligence and applications can find a large market” there.
“Cooperation between the two countries can also involve launching projects related to financial technology and to exploit remote work to benefit from the experiences of the two countries,” he said.
But all of this is related to the speed of the steps that governmental and non-governmental agencies take in Bahrain and Israel with regard to the pandemic.
“It is true that Bahrain is witnessing a rapid decline in daily cases, but other countries are witnessing a large second wave,” AlSaloom observed. “This impedes the speed of steps in the normalization of relations.”