MANAMA — Defense Minister Benny Gantz landed in the Bahraini capital on Wednesday afternoon in his first official visit to the island kingdom. He is set to sign security agreements with his Bahrainai counterpart as the two nations look to further solidify their ties.
For security reasons, Gantz’s landmark trip was kept secret until he landed in Manama, and details of his schedule in the island kingdom were similarly not immediately permitted for publication.
Gantz was scheduled to spend just over 24 hours in the Persian Gulf country, meeting with top Bahraini officials, including King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and Minister of Defense Affairs Abdullah Bin Hassan Al Noaimi, before returning to Israel late Thursday night.
During the visit, Gantz will sign security agreements with Al Noaimi, the details of which were still being discussed ahead of the trip.
In addition, the defense minister was scheduled to visit the United States Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in the Persian Gulf island nation, as well to meet with its commander Brad Cooper.
In a symbolic turn of events, the plane carrying Gantz for his first official visit to Bahrain was the same Boeing 707 used by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to make his landmark trip to Israel in 1977, formally kicking off the peace process between Jerusalem and Cairo. In 2005, the plane was sold by the Egyptian military to a civilian airline, which sold it to the Israeli Air Force in 2011. The IAF turned the passenger plane into a refueler, and it remains in use today.
In what is becoming an increasingly common, but still diplomatically sensitive, occurrence, Gantz made his trip to Bahrain through Saudi Arabian airspace, marking one of the first known times that an Israeli Air Force plane made such a trip publicly.
The defense minister was joined on the trip by Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel, Israeli Navy chief David Salama, and the head of the ministry’s influential Political-Military Bureau, Zohar Palti.
This was Gantz’s first official visit to Bahrain and the second governmental visit to the kingdom since Jerusalem and Manama normalized ties in September 2020.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid first visited the country in September 2021 to open Israel’s embassy in Manama.
Somewhat less influential than the other countries in the Persian Gulf, the oil-rich Bahrain is still considered to be a significant player in the region. It maintains a deep relationship with the United States military, which based the 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 its stability, as Iran has regularly backed revolutionary groups within the country over the years.
Earlier this week, the Israeli Navy began taking part in a massive international exercise led by the 5th Fleet, the International Maritime Exercise, known by its abbreviation IMX, which will focus on unmanned naval systems and the use of artificial intelligence. This was Israel’s first time participating in the naval drill, which is also being attended by countries with which Israel does not have formal ties, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan.