Bahrain lawmakers vote to recall envoy from Tel Aviv, but Israel says ties stable

Statement by largely powerless parliament says trade frozen, but both Israel’s Foreign Ministry, anonymous senior official stress no formal decision made to pull ambassadors

Bahrain's first-ever ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma (C), his wife and President Isaac Herzog (L) after presenting his credentials at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, September 14, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Bahrain's first-ever ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma (C), his wife and President Isaac Herzog (L) after presenting his credentials at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, September 14, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Bahrain’s Council of Representatives said Thursday that the country was recalling its ambassador from Israel, but a senior official familiar with the matter as well as Israel’s Foreign Ministry insisted that no such decision was made and that ties between the two countries remain.

The senior official said the Shiite-majority country’s envoy in Tel Aviv, Khaled Al-Jalahma, was already back in Bahrain for a personal matter, and an Israeli official said that Jerusalem had pulled its envoy Eitan Naeh along with his staff out of the country toward the beginning of the war as a security precaution.

The Israeli official said that the United Arab Emirates is the only Mideast country where Jerusalem still has an ambassador stationed after it quietly pulled envoys from Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Bahrain.

“There has been no recall of ambassadors and no cutting of ties,” the senior official said, echoing an earlier message from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which stated that it has not received any formal directive from Manama regarding the recalling of ambassadors and that “Israel-Bahrain relations are stable.”

The announcement from the lower house of Bahrain’s National Assembly demanded “more decisions and measures” in response to Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, which has inflamed anti-Israel sentiment across the region.

The fact that the statement did not come from the Foreign Ministry likely meant it was more an act of venting for Manama’s pro-Palestinian street than a sign of a real sea change in relations.

Bahrainis carry anti-Israel placards during a gathering in Manama on October 20, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

Bahrain’s National Assembly is largely toothless, with power mostly resting in the Sunni monarchy that rules the tiny island state.

Israel’s trade relations with Bahrain only total around $50 million annually, and Jerusalem had expressed eagerness before the war to enhance them. Israel’s bilateral trade relationship with the United Arab Emirates, in comparison, was expected to reach $3 billion this year.

Bahrain has been openly critical of Israel in the war, as have many other Arab states. Multiple pro-Palestinian public demonstrations have been held in the country since the early days of the war.

Earlier this week, Bahrain called for a humanitarian truce, and condemned “the escalation of the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, noting its serious repercussions on exacerbating the catastrophic humanitarian situation and its threat to the lives of more innocent Palestinian civilians, especially children and women, as well as its clear violations of the rules of international humanitarian law and resolutions of international legitimacy.”

The next day, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani visited Ramallah.

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 fellow Abraham Accords signatories UAE and Morocco, public support for the Abraham Accords was declining even before the war. Washington Institute polling published in July showed 45 percent 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.

Relations deteriorated even further this year, with Manama issuing increasingly frequent rebukes of inflammatory remarks by ministers in Israel’s hard-right government.

However, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen made a visit to the Gulf nation in September and met its crown prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, as well as Cohen’s Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif Al Zayani.

War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing some 230 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

The Hamas-run health ministry has claimed that more than 8,500 people have died in Gaza since October 7, but these figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, and the victims of misfired rockets launched by both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that fell inside of the Gaza Strip.

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