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US-Israeli delegation arrives in Bahrain ahead of official establishing diplomatic relations

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A joint American-Israeli delegation landed in Bahrain Sunday, where officials will be signing a number of bilateral agreements following an announcement last month to normalize relations.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, led the delegation that flew out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Sunday morning.

Ben-Shabbat said ahead of departure the visit will ‘translate plans to actions and concrete agreements’ with the signing of a range of deals involving finance, investment, trade, tourism, communications, technology and agriculture.

Another Israeli official said the visit represents the official establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries with the sides expected to sign a joint statement establishing full diplomatic relations.   

The delegation was received by Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, who called for a ‘genuine and lasting peace, one that safeguards the rights of the Middle East’s peoples.’

Mnuchin, the head of the American delegation, which included U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, said he hoped that the United States would soon be able to announce more agreements between Israel and Arab states. 

Ben-Shabbat, meanwhile, said at the greeting ceremony that ‘Israel has an outstretched hand for real peace, and we look forward to hosting you, too.’

Head of Israel’s National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin disembark from a plane upon their arrival at the Bahraini International Airport

Ben-Shabbat said ahead of departure the visit will ‘translate plans to actions and concrete agreements’ with the signing of a range of deals involving finance, investment, trade, tourism, communications, technology and agriculture

The breakthrough, overseen by U.S. President Donald Trump, is a foreign policy flourish ahead of his reelection bid next month (pictured: US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (R), US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (C) and Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (L))

Bahrain followed the United Arab Emirates in agreeing last month to normalize ties with Israel.

The breakthrough, overseen by President Donald Trump, is a foreign policy flourish ahead of his reelection bid next month. 

Palestine has blasted the move as a betrayal and an undermining of the Arab stance that recognition of Israel should come only after Palestinians achieve an independent state of their own.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became only the third and fourth Arab states to agree to normalize ties with Israel, following Israel’s 1979 peace deal with Egypt and a 1994 pact with Jordan.

Bahraini civil society groups and opposition figures, already targeted in a yearslong crackdown on dissent, have also spoken out against normalization with Israel.

As part of the deal to normalize relations, the two Gulf Arab states and Israel will eventually establish embassies and exchange ambassadors. The Israeli official said the Israeli Embassy was expected to open in Bahrain in the coming months.

Similar to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain is expected to open its embassy at some point in the city of Tel Aviv, where most foreign embassies are located because of Jerusalem’s contested status.

Israel also agreed to suspend annexation plans in the occupied West Bank in exchange for UAE ties but has expanded settlement activity since the deal was announced.

The decision to establish ties with Israel has outraged the Palestinians, whose leadership has blasted the Bahraini move as a betrayal and an undermining of the Arab stance that recognition of Israel should come only after Palestinians achieve an independent state of their own

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became only the third and fourth Arab states to agree to normalize ties with Israel, following Israel’s 1979 peace deal with Egypt and a 1994 pact with Jordan

Bahraini and Israeli officials have held numerous conversations since announcing their intention to establish full ties. Sunday’s face-to-face meetings, however, are seen as another step toward normalization.

The El Al flight landed at Bahrain International Airport on Sunday afternoon. The kingdom’s state-owned television channels did not carry the arrival live, nor did the state-run news agency announce the Israelis’ presence.

Bahrain’s state-run news agency later published pictures of the arrival, acknowledging the Israeli officials were there to sign documents ‘establishing diplomatic relations between the kingdom of Bahrain and the state of Israel, in addition to a number of memoranda of understanding in the areas of joint cooperation.’

‘The agreement represents a historical step… to achieve security, peace and a flourishing region,’ Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, said upon the delegation’s arrival.

Israeli delegation chief Shabbat said in Arabic it was a ‘great day’, adding these relations will ‘most likely benefit both sides.’

Before takeoff, he said the aim was ‘to translate into practical plans and concrete agreements the peace declaration that was signed on the White House lawn’.

Shabbat said the visit would focus on ‘finance and investments, trade and economy, tourism, aviation, communication, culture, science, technology, agriculture and additional issues’.

Israel said it expected to sign six to eight memorandums of understanding with Bahrain.

Security cooperation is also likely to feature prominently in bilateral relations, with Israel’s Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen visiting Manama earlier this month to meet Bahrain’s security brass.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani delivers a statement upon the arrival of an Israeli delegation accompanied by the U.S. treasury secretary, in Muharraq, Bahrain

Shabbat said the visit would focus on ‘finance and investments, trade and economy, tourism, aviation, communication, culture, science, technology, agriculture and additional issues’

The Palestinians have condemned the Gulf agreements with Israel as ‘a stab in the back’ for their aspirations to establish an independent state.

Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists more Middle East states want ties with Israel as priorities have shifted.

Countries now value lucrative trade opportunities above the Palestinian conflict, he has argued.

Meanwhile, Israel and the UAE have already signed a number of business, banking and intergovernmental agreements. 

The accords made public what had been a gradual strengthening of quiet ties between Israel and several Gulf states – forged in recent years over a shared concern over regional rival Iran. 

Other Arab countries could follow suit, with analysts and insiders pointing to Sudan, Oman and Morocco as possibilities.

The trip to Bahrain on Sunday also came as U.N. arms embargoes on Iran expired despite American objections. Bahrain, like several other Gulf Arab nations, views Iran as the most-serious threat to its security in the Persian Gulf.

The Israeli delegation is slated to fly back to Tel Aviv later on Sunday, while the Americans will head to the UAE before flying to Israel on Tuesday.

Last month, the first known commercial flight between the two countries brought a delegation of Israeli officials to Manama to discuss cooperation between Israel and Bahrain following the signing of an agreement to normalize ties.

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