After 9 months without high-level visits, FM Cohen heads to Bahrain

Foreign minister to meet king, Bahraini counterpart, and inaugurate embassy in Manama, after trip was delayed in wake of Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attends a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attends a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was set to take off for Bahrain on Sunday afternoon, weeks after the visit was postponed by Manama in July in the wake of a Temple Mount visit by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

Cohen is scheduled to meet Bahrain’s King Hamad Al Khalifa and Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani on Monday, in addition to lower-level ministers. He will also visit the United States Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain, and officially inaugurate Israel’s embassy in Manama.

As he usually does, Cohen is bringing a business delegation with him to promote trade and investment between the two countries.

Cohen will become the first senior Israeli official to openly visit Israel’s Abraham Accords allies since the Netanyahu government came to power late last year. Top Arab officials have also stayed away from Israel over the same period.

Though it has not stood out in the stridency of its criticism, Bahrain has joined other Arab countries in condemning Israel over statements by hardline ministers.

However, there are positive signs beyond the Cohen visit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to fly to the UAE in late November for the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Abdul Lateef Rashid Al Zayani, speaks to journalists in Manama on December 4, 2022. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

The prime minister was also invited to Morocco by King Mohammed VI in July after Israel announced it would recognize Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara.

Cohen’s visit comes a week after a debacle with another potential Arab partner. After revealing that he had met with Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla Manjoush the previous week, Cohen found himself at the center of a firestorm for making the meeting public. Mangoush lost her job and fled to Turkey, as Cohen was roundly criticized for angering Arab allies and the US.

Cohen blamed “political opponents” for the reaction.

The Libya episode also revealed strains between Netanyahu and his foreign minister. Netanyahu released a statement that henceforth any sensitive meeting conducted by a cabinet minister, and any publication of news of such a meeting, must first be cleared with him — a clear public rebuke of Cohen.

File: Najla Mangoush, Libya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, attends a signing ceremony in Doha on August 8, 2022. (Mustafa ABUMUNES / AFP)

Cohen is slated to land back in Israel on Tuesday evening.

Israel and Bahrain established full diplomatic relations in September 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords, a series of diplomatic deals between the Jewish state and four Arab countries.

In Bahrain, as in UAE and Morocco, public support for the Abraham Accords is declining. Washington Institute polling published in July showed 45% of Bahrainis holding very or somewhat positive views of the agreements in November 2020. That support had steadily eroded to a paltry 20% by March of this year.

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