MANAMA, Bahrain — In a first for an Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett took off for a 24-hour visit to Bahrain early on Monday evening.
Arriving some two hours later in the capital Manama, he was greeted by Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani and Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed Rashid Al-Zayani.
Bennett is slated to meet Bahrain’s ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and the country’s crown prince and prime minister, Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.
“This is an exciting event,” Bennett told reporters on the tarmac before departing. “During this stormy period it is important that from our region there come a message of cooperation, goodwill and a joint stand against threats.”
Bennett and Salman met in November on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where the crown prince invited the prime minister to visit the country.
According to Bennett’s office, their meeting on Tuesday will revolve around deepening the bilateral relationship between the countries, after they signed a normalization agreement as part of the Abraham Accords in September 2020. They will also discuss regional economic and diplomatic issues, including technological innovation.
Bennett is also scheduled to meet with Bahrain’s finance, foreign, industry, and transportation ministers, as well as members of the small local Jewish community.
In August 2021, Bahrain’s 50-strong Jewish community held their first Shabbat services at the synagogue in Manama in 74 years, accompanied by expatriate Jews and diplomats.
Bennett visited the other Gulf state in the Abraham Accords, the UAE, in December. Notably, however, he did not combine the trips, as Bahrain and the UAE seem to be pursuing increasingly separate relationships with Israel after attending the Abraham Accords ceremony at the White House together and holding joint events with Israel last year.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid flew to Bahrain in September 2021 to open Israel’s embassy in Manama.
Earlier this month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed a memorandum of understanding with his Bahraini counterpart while visiting the Gulf country. According to Gantz’s office, the memorandum of understanding “will help advance intelligence cooperation, a framework for exercises, and cooperation between the countries’ defense industries.”
Following the signing, the defense minister met with Prince Salman and then with King Hamad.
Last week, reports emerged that Israel will dispatch a naval officer to an official posting in Bahrain, potentially marking the first time an Arab country openly hosts a stationed Israeli military dignitary.
The officer, who has not been named, will travel in the coming weeks to the Gulf kingdom, where he will serve as a liaison for the United States 5th Fleet, which is garrisoned there, Channel 13 reported.
Somewhat less influential than the other countries in the Persian Gulf, the petroleum-rich Bahrain is still considered a significant player in the region. It maintains a deep relationship with the US military, which bases its navy’s 5th Fleet in the island nation.
Both Israel and Bahrain consider Iran an enemy. For the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Islamic Republic represents a constant threat to stability, as Iran has regularly backed revolutionary groups within the country over the years.
Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.