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‘Message of peace’: Herzog lands in Bahrain for 1st state visit by Israeli president

2-day trip in Manama begins with Herzog meeting King Hamad, Foreign Minister Al-Zayani, after recent large anti-Israel protest; he is also slated to make a stop in Abu Dhabi

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog (front L) and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (front R) at the Al Qudaibiya palace in Manama, December 4, 2022. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
President Isaac Herzog (front L) and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (front R) at the Al Qudaibiya palace in Manama, December 4, 2022. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

MANAMA, Bahrain — President Isaac Herzog headed for Bahrain Sunday morning, kicking off a two-day visit to Israel’s allies in the Persian Gulf region by meeting Bahrain’s king and foreign minister.

The trip is the first by an Israeli president to the island kingdom, and will be followed by a visit to the United Arab Emirates — both of which established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020.

Ahead of his departure, Herzog said the trip was “predominantly a message of peace in the region.”

“Another historic step in the relationship between Israel and Arab states that signed the Abraham Accords, with the hope that more and more countries will be able to join the circle of peace with the State of Israel,” Herzog said, in English.

Upon landing in Manama, Herzog and his wife Michal were welcomed by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani and Bahrain’s envoy to Israel Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma.

He then sat down for a meeting with Al-Zayani.

President Isaac Herzog (L) meets with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (R) at the Al-Qudaibiya Palace in Manama, Bahrain, December 4, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Herzog then headed to Al-Qudaibiya Palace, where he was received by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

A military band played the national anthems of the two countries before the two leaders entered the palace.

King Hamad welcomed Herzog in Arabic, stressing Bahrain’s “firm position in support of achieving a just, comprehensive, and sustainable peace that guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

Herzog opened his statement in Arabic, telling King Hamad: “My friend, Your Majesty, I thank you for hosting me as the first Israeli president to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

In the afternoon, Herzog is slated to meet with members of the local Jewish community, then will head to a meeting with the Bahrain Economic Development Board.

On Monday, the president will take off for Abu Dhabi to meet with his Emirati counterpart Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi ruler known colloquially as MBZ. Herzog will also attend the Abu Dhabi Space Debate, a forum on space exploration policy that will also feature Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa during the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 21, 2016. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Representatives from Israel’s Innovation Authority, Start-Up Nation Central, the Israel Export Institute, and other trade officials are accompanying the president on the trip.

The visit takes place as the Gulf has seen recent displays of anti-Israel sentiment, cracking the façade of widespread backing for normalization in both Bahrain and the UAE. Opposition to official government policy is rare in both countries run by authoritarian regimes, but support for the Abraham Accords has been declining in both places.

Ahead of Herzog’s visit on Friday, protesters in Bahrain chanted “death to Israel”  at rallies against the upcoming trip. The protesters were affiliated with opposition groups that are supportive of Iran, the Ynet news site reported.

Some carried signs with Herzog’s image that said “criminal” and “you are not welcome in Bahrain.”

Local authorities allowed the anti-Israel protests to take place, but will not permit similar events during Herzog’s visit, the report said.

A Bahraini opposition outlet said the demonstrators burned an Israeli flag and squared off with riot police.

A Thursday report from Israel’s Channel 12 said the Shin Bet had decided to boost Herzog’s security detail for the trip following an online social media campaign from Bahraini opposition activists.

One of the activist posts against Herzog said, “All normalization is an act of treason. Do not come.”

In Qatar, which is hosting the World Cup, some Israeli visitors to the country for the tournament have been harassed and accosted by locals and others.

Israel normalized ties with the UAE and Bahrain in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. The agreement paved the way for normalization with Morocco months later.

President Isaac Herzog inspects an honor guard with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In January, Herzog visited the UAE’s Abu Dhabi and Dubai in a two-day trip.

Last month, presumptive incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a phone call with Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

The pair shared their desire to continue to deepen relations between the two countries, and Netanyahu invited Al Khalifa to visit Israel.

In October, a delegation of Israeli paratroopers held a joint jump over Bahrain, alongside soldiers from the Gulf nation, the UAE, and the United States to mark two years since the signing of the Abraham Accords.

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