TEL AVIV – The normalization of diplomatic relations between Bahrain and Israel may be announced in the near future, Bahraini and Western officials were quoted as saying over the weekend.
Bahraini officials said an official announcement could happen as early as next year, the Middle East Eye reported.
“I do not think we will witness the opening of an Israeli embassy here, but probably we will have official visits from ministers of trade and economic affairs,” an unnamed Western official told Middle East Eye.
The move comes on the heels of several overtures that indicate that Bahrain’s attitude toward Israel is different from that of its Arab neighbors. From 2008-2013, a Jewish citizen of the country, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, served as the Bahraini ambassador to the U.S., marking the first time a Jew represented an Arab country. Since 2015, the king has celebrated Hanukkah at his palace with both Muslims and Jews present. In May, Israeli football officials were invited to the FIFA congress held in the kingdom.
Last week, Breitbart Jerusalem reported that the Gulf nation’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa slammed the Arab boycott of Israel and said he encourages his subjects to visit the Jewish state while at an a multi-faith event hosted the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, CA.
Bahrain and Israel share concerns over the threat posed by Iran with the tiny island nation accusing Tehran of setting up terror cells in its country. According to the official, any misgivings by the Bahraini people about a rapprochement with Israel would be trumped by their hostility towards the Iranian regime.
“I would not say this year, maybe the year after, they will tell the populace that it is important to confront Iran, and people with time will accept it,” the official said.
“Israel does not threaten our security or conspire on us but Iran certainly does,” the official said.
An imam from the country’s second city of Riffa told the Middle East Eye that the government had ordered mosques to stop giving sermons that criticize Israel.
Earlier this year, King Hamad invited Rabbi Marvin Hier, who is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s Associate Director, on an official visit to Bahrain’s capital of Manama where they toured – among other sites – the only synagogue to still exist in the Persian Gulf region. The three also discussed opening a Museum of Religious Tolerance in Manama.
“The king made a clear statement: ‘It’s illogical for the Arab world to boycott Israel. We must find a better way,’” Hier told The Times of Israel regarding the monarch’s remarks in Los Angeles this month.
Hier said the kind would “absolutely and unequivocally” follow through on his promise to allow Bahrainis to visit Israel.
Cooper said at the time that the island nation, like Israel, “lives in a tough neighborhood. But if there is to be any hope for the future, it will have to be realized by voices of religious moderation.”
On Sunday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry wrote on its Arabic Twitter account, “Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa denounced the Arab boycott against Israel and has confirmed that Bahraini citizens are now free to visit #Israel.”
However, the tweet was soon deleted – possibly out of a fear of backlash from the Arab world.
Hier said of all the Arab leaders he has met, the Bahraini king “is far advanced in his thinking from other leaders in the region. There is no comparison. The others are much more cautious. ”
“He sees, in my opinion, that there is no reason for there to be hostilities between Israel and his kingdom,” he said.
Hier added that the king “made it clear” that Bahrain and Israel could be obvious allies in their shared desire to stem Iranian influence in the region.
Wikileaks documents show that the there have been several high level meetings between Israel and Bahrain over the past decades, which have included respective foreign ministers of both countries and intelligence officials.
In 2016, Bahrain was the only Gulf country to publicly mourn the passing of former president Shimon Peres.
“We are entitled, and look forward, to the day when we see an independent state, living in peace and security, side by side with the State of Israel,” a statement from Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said.
In 2010, an Israeli hospital provided life-saving surgery to a Bahraini princess.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during his speech at the UN General Assembly that Israel was enjoying its “best-ever” relations with the Arab world.