Normalization Opens New Avenues of Influence to Israel
Businesspeople, experts explain latest shifts in Middle East
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left for Washington Sunday night to participate along with the UAE foreign minister in the Abraham Accord signing ceremony, scheduled to take place at the White House Tuesday afternoon.
While there, Netanyahu will also sign a pact cementing the agreement reached over the weekend between Israel and another Gulf nation – Bahrain. The normalizing of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain opens up several intriguing avenues, Israeli analysts and diplomats say.
Aside from being another Arab state that Israel enters into official relations with, the added value here is of signaling where Saudi Arabia is at. While they aren’t ready to officially normalize relations with Israel, the Saudis are allowing their proxies to do so, with support from behind the scenes
“[Bahrain] is a satellite state of Saudi Arabia. That’s why this is so important – because they would have never signed this pact without Saudi approval,” Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum of the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University told The Media Line.
“Aside from being another Arab state that Israel enters into official relations with, the added value here is of signaling where Saudi Arabia is at,” Teitelbaum explains. “While they aren’t ready to officially normalize relations with Israel, the Saudis are allowing their proxies to do so, with support from behind the scenes.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu addressed the recently announced deal, telling his ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting that he spoke with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Friday. “We had a warm conversation in which we agreed to establish peace … with full diplomatic relations,” the prime minister said, adding that direct flights between the two countries, over Saudi airspace and with Riyadh’s approval, would begin soon.
On Saturday, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani. “We will continue to work toward improving and deepening the bonds between us, and to maintain peace and stability in the region,” Ashkenazi promised.
There is a Shi’ite majority ruled by a Sunni royal family. Because of the makeup of the population, it’s the regime most threatened by Iran
Unlike with last month’s deal with the UAE, both Ashkenazi and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, political rivals of Netanyahu, were notified of and participated in the Bahrain talks before they were made public.
The Kingdom of Bahrain, located in the southern Persian Gulf, is a tiny island state, comprising nearly 100 natural and artificial islands. It is connected by the 15.5-mile King Fahd Causeway to its closest neighbor, Saudi Arabia, which besides supporting Bahrain financially also helped King Hamad quell the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that threatened to topple him from his throne.
“There is a Shi’ite majority ruled by a Sunni royal family,” Teitelbaum explains. “Because of the makeup of the population, it’s the regime most threatened by Iran,” he says, noting the 1981 failed coup supported by Tehran.
“They now expect to be a part of the Sunni-Israel axis that is developing in front of our eyes,” Teitelbaum says of the Bahraini leadership. “This axis, while not yet reaching a critical mass, is a significant hit to Iranian’s geopolitical standing.”
They know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict very well, but they offered up a new approach – advancing economic ties first, making massive investments. They told the Americans they want to be a big catalyzer in terms of money and business relations in Israel. They can mediate between Israel and Palestine
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Arik Tal, CEO of Nokia Israel, was part of the Israeli delegation of business and security officials that participated in the June 2019 Peace to Prosperity conference in Bahrain. He tells of a highly developed, welcoming nation that is ready to do business for the good of Israelis, Bahrainis and Palestinians.
“We were there as the king’s personal guests and were received wonderfully,” Tal remembers. “I went out to see the country with some friends that were living there. There are a lot of foreign nationals and representatives there, a lot of financial institutions. Bahrain is extremely advanced, in terms of infrastructure, roads, highways.
“They showed a lot of willingness to invest in infrastructure and employment projects in the West Bank. That’s a win-win; everybody gains,” Tal explains. “When you create high-paying, dependable jobs, this, in turn, creates incentives for cooperation, for growth. An ecosystem of welfare and development. That’s what these agreements are all about.
“They know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict very well, but they offered up a new approach – advancing economic ties first, making massive investments,” says Tal of the Bahrainis’ viewpoint. “They told the Americans they want to be a big catalyzer in terms of money and business relations in Israel. They can mediate between Israel and Palestine.”
Lior Hayat, spokesman of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, sees Bahrain’s presence at the White House on Tuesday as “very important,” as it shows the Abraham Accord is spreading to other countries that are following the UAE’s leadership.
“We hope other countries will join too,” Hayat told The Media Line. “The next steps are to establish diplomatic relationships, open embassies and consulates, build the infrastructure of the relationship, including bilateral agreements, different topics like consular issues, science, finance, trade.”
Hayat, who was in Abu Dhabi for the historic August 31 meeting between UAE representatives and the Israeli delegation, relayed that Jerusalem’s Foreign Ministry “has been working on these [deals] for more than two decades, mostly in the business [sector] and also in helping local public opinion prepare for the relationship.”
The future can be filled with hope and does not need to be predetermined by the conflicts of the past
News of the latest agreement was first broken by US President Donald Trump on Friday. Less than a month after announcing the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE, Trump revealed the Israel-Bahrain deal, saying it was “very, very important, not only for the Middle East but for the world.
“The future can be filled with hope and does not need to be predetermined by the conflicts of the past,” the president said in the Oval Office.
Hayat conveyed Israel’s gratitude for American leadership: “We appreciate the efforts the US and the administration are putting into this process, helping us achieve peace with our neighbors. Without their efforts, this wouldn’t have been possible.”