Bahrain FM seems to call Jerusalem a ‘side issue,’ urges unity against Iran
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Bahrain FM seems to call Jerusalem a ‘side issue,’ urges unity against Iran

Senior Gulf diplomat says it's ‘not helpful’ to go after Trump while the US is fighting the ‘theo-fascist Islamic republic’

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 23, 2016. (UN Photo/Cia Pak)
Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 23, 2016. (UN Photo/Cia Pak)

Bahrain’s foreign minister appeared to downplay as a “side issue” the controversy over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s capital, while urging a united front with Washington against “theo-fascists” Iran.

“It’s not helpful to pick a fight with the USA over side issues while we together fight the clear and present danger of The Theo-Fascist Islamic republic,” Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa tweeted Wednesday in English.

The Bahrani minister did not specifically mention Jerusalem in his tweet, but the statement coincided with Trump’s threat to slash aid to countries that vote to annul his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in a UN General Assembly vote slated for Thursday.

“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Trump said at the White House.

US President Donald Trump delivers a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

Added the president, “People are tired of the United States — people that live here, our great citizens that love this country — they’re tired of this country being taken advantage of, and we’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”

Bahrain received a relatively tiny sum of $6.6 million in aid from the US in 2017.

Nearly 23 hours after his original tweet, Al-Khalifa clarified that Bahrain was still committed to supporting the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital alongside Israel.

“We need to protect our homeland, first and foremost, from Iranian Theo_Fascist agenda. So we can play our part in solving the Arab-Israel dispute, by achieving the two states solution with east Jerusalem as the Capital of independent Fully sovereign Palestine,” he wrote.

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, Washington’s UN envoy, warned that she would report back to Trump with the names of the countries that support the resolution rejecting the US recognition of Jerusalem.

If it was indeed a reference to Jerusalem, the statement by the Bahraini foreign minister would constitute a rare public acknowledgement by an Arab country that the Palestinian issue has lessened in importance in the face of regional Sunni states’ opposition to Iran’s growing influence.

Khalifa did not respond to a request for comment.

In a December 6 address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. It was criticized by many countries, condemned by the Arab world, and infuriated Palestinians, who held violent demonstrations for several days in the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.

Israel and Bahrain do not have diplomatic relations, although Bahrain’s King Hamad is rumored to be weighing an end to his country’s boycott of the Jewish state as the two countries nurture covert ties.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa speaks during a meeting with US President Donald Trump, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Earlier in December, an interfaith group from Bahrain paid an unprecedented public visit to Israel.

The Bahraini foreign minister is no stranger to Israel-related controversy on his Twitter account.

When Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres died last year, he was the only Arab official to publicly eulogize the veteran Israeli politician.

“Rest in Peace President Shimon Peres, a Man of War and a Man of the still elusive Peace in the Middle East,” Al Khalifa wrote.

 

Bahrain, a group of islands in the Persian Gulf with a population of 1.4 million, is the only Arab Gulf state that has a synagogue. The country had a Jewish population of some 1,500 in 1948. However, after the declaration of the State of Israel many left, and almost all those who remained followed suit after 1967’s Six Day War. Today, fewer than 50 Jews remain in the country.

The kingdom is also unique in that its ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2010 was Houda Nonoo, a Jewish woman who had formerly served in parliament.

While Bahrain and Israel have never maintained diplomatic relations, in 2005 King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa boasted to an American official that his state has contacts with Israel “at the intelligence/security level (i.e., with Mossad),” according to a secret US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks. The king also indicated willingness “to move forward in other areas, although it will be difficult for Bahrain to be the first.” The development of “trade contacts,” though, would have to wait for the implementation of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the king said in the leaked cable.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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