Foreign Minister Cohen speaks with Bahraini counterpart, as concerns rise over ties
Senior diplomats discuss need to deepen relationship, as Netanyahu prioritizes expanding circle of Abraham Accords
Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter
New Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke on Monday with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, stressing the importance of expanding bilateral ties.
Zayani wished Cohen success, according to the Bahraini readout of the call.
Israel’s top diplomat tweeted on Tuesday that the two had discussed “meaningful projects” that would deepen the economic and people-to-people ties between the countries.
Later Tuesday, Bahrain added its voice to a chorus of international criticism, including from Israel’s peace partners in the region, of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s Tuesday morning visit to the Temple Mount. Bahrain’s foreign ministry said the visit was a “provocation against Muslims and a violation of international law.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned for a sixth term as prime minister last week, has pledged to strengthen the normalization agreements with Bahrain, Morocco, and the UAE.
As a chief architect of the accords, Netanyahu also hopes to expand the circle of countries and reach a similar deal with Saudi Arabia.
The call between Cohen and Zayani came as signs of concern emerge about the trajectory of Israel-Bahrain ties. While Hebrew headlines often tell of comfortable and joyous encounters between Israelis and Arabs in the Gulf, the data shows a worrying and unmistakable trend: As time goes on, the Abraham Accords are becoming less popular on the streets of Israel’s new allies.
Washington Institute polling 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 last year.
President Isaac Herzog flew to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates last month in an attempt to get the relationship back on track.
“Many people are anxious to see the benefits of peace,” Zayani said during the visit, “and therefore we should look at it as an opportunity whereby we work together, and that’s the main objective of having the warm peace strategy.”
“It’s not incumbent on Bahrain alone to show the benefits of the Abraham Accords,” he continued in a seeming rebuke of Israel, “but is incumbent on all of us.”
A source close to the Bahraini government told The Times of Israel that Manama wants to see Israeli investment in the kingdom, not just have Israelis show up to raise Gulf funding for their projects back home.
Speaking to Israeli journalists in Abu Dhabi on the second day of his trip, Herzog emphasized that Bahrain and Israel “want to upgrade the agreements and are working to add more countries.”
Moreover, Bahrainis have not shown much interest in exploring the Jewish state. The Tourism Ministry does not know how many Bahrainis have visited Israel because, it said, “the numbers are too small.”
Some experts fear that the new government — the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history — could further deter Gulf Arab tourists and even jeopardize the agreements. His government has vowed to expand West Bank settlements and pledged in principle to push toward annexing the territory, a step that was put on hold as a condition for the initial agreement with the UAE.