Bahrain envoy: Abraham Accords helped keep lid on Gaza war in May
Ambassador to US notes recent fighting’s shorter length, fewer casualties compared to 2014 war, arguing that new lines of communication in region make it easier to defuse conflict
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief
NEW YORK — Bahrain’s ambassador to the US said Monday that the Abraham Accords helped end the recent Gaza war and mitigate damage from the fighting.
“A couple months ago… we saw a true reflection of how the accords can bring about peace,” Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashid Al Khalifa said in a live interview organized by a private civil society group.
Israel and Hamas-led fighters in Gaza fought an 11-day war in May, with thousands of rockets fired into Israel by Palestinian terrorists and heavy Israeli airstrikes in Gaza halted only by a ceasefire deal mediated by the US, Egypt and Qatar.
Khalifa did not say how Bahrain or any of the other Abraham Accords countries directly contributed to ending the fighting or mitigating its damage, but noted that the May war was much shorter and less deadly than the last major engagement between Israel and Gaza, a 50-day war fought in 2014.
“Overnight there was an escalation in Gaza. That escalation reminded us of 2014, but when we compare the two, we see how shorter it [was] this year than it was in 2014. Obviously there were casualties, but much less this time than in 2014,” Khalifa said.
In the recent fighting, 15 people were killed in Israel and 256 were killed in Gaza, compared to 74 killed in Israel and over 2,000 killed in Gaza in the 2014 war.
The envoy acknowledged that roughly the same number of rockets were launched in both conflicts, despite the shortened timeframe, and noted that “the source of where these rockets came from and technology [used]” were also the same, in an apparent reference to Hamas’s backers in Iran, a regional foe of Bahrain.
Khalifa maintained that the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel created another avenue of communication that can be used to “reduce conflict and escalation … when there is a flashpoint.”
The Abraham Accords were a series of diplomatic agreements signed between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. None of the countries were known to have mediated between Israel and Hamas during the conflict, which was sparked by rising tensions surrounding Israeli actions in Jerusalem.
Bahrain did speak out several times during the fighting, with its Foreign Ministry early on issuing a “strong condemnation” of Israeli police enforcement against rioters on the Temple Mount, saying it must “stop these rejected provocations against the people of Jerusalem, and work to prevent its forces from attacking worshipers in this holy month.”
Several days later, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani lambasted Israeli counterstrikes in Gaza during a call with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Maliki.
Addressing concerns that Bahrain’s willingness to establish ties with Israel marked a disinterest in the Palestinian struggle, Khalifa said Monday that Manama remains “committed to the grievances of the Palestinian people” and that the Abraham Accords “brin[g] us closer to a comprehensive peace in the region.”
He said his government also remains committed to a two-state solution and has been “very clear on where we stand when it comes to East and West Jerusalem,” which Bahrain views must serve as the future capitals of Palestine and Israel respectively.
“Bahrain is adding a voice [on behalf of] the Palestinian people, as opposed to only looking out for [our own] bilateral relations,” Khalifa argued. “There’s a little more leverage that Palestinian should think about when it comes to Bahrain and others joining the accords.”
Later in the event, the ambassador revealed that he had learned a great deal about Israel several years ago, before the Abraham Accords were signed last September, from watching the hit Netflix show Fauda.
“There was an absence of understanding between Arabs and Jews at the time, and I think it’s through media that we can [better] understand one another. More importantly though, [we do so] through the building of relationships.”