In Israel, Bahraini minister says peace deal a ‘case study for others to follow’

Zayed Alzayani says his country eager for direct flights to Tel Aviv; Netanyahu says normalization promises economic benefits ‘unimaginable just a few months ago’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi greets Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed R. Alzayani in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi greets Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed R. Alzayani in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Bahrain wants to open a direct airlink to Israel soon, the country’s industry, commerce and tourism minister said Wednesday during a visit to Jerusalem.

“We are eager to launch direct flights between Bahrain and Tel Aviv,” Zayed R. Alzayani said after his meeting with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. “With us today in the delegation is a significant team presence from Gulf Air, our national carrier, to make sure that that gets established and up and running as soon as possible.”

Alzanyi arrived in Israel on Tuesday for a three-day visit with a delegation of 40 Bahraini officials and businesspeople in a bid to expand bilateral ties in the areas of trade and tourism. His is the second ministerial delegation from the island nation in two weeks.

During his brief remarks at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the Bahraini minister hailed his country’s normalization agreement with Israel, saying that he hoped it would benefit not only the citizens of the two countries but also serve as a blueprint for other countries to copy.

“We believe firmly that the continuity of this peace and the prosperity of this peace should be filtering down to the common citizen, in Bahrain and in Israel,” he said. “The whole world is watching. We are determined and committed to make this a success story and to make it a case study for others to follow.”

He concluded his remarks by saying: “I hope this is a long-lasting and prosperous peace, and shalom.”

Ashkenazi hailed the second ministerial visit from Bahrain in as many weeks as a “celebration of peace in the Middle East.”

“As ministers, we are committed to bring about the implementation of the agreements, as soon as possible, so that the peoples of our countries can soon enjoy the fruits of the peace that we have dreamed of,” he said.

“Such a delegation symbolizes first and foremost the normalization of relations between the countries and our common desire to promote change in the Middle East. A change that brings with it peace, stability, security, economic prosperity and commercial, cultural, business, technological and more collaborations.”

The foreign minister announced the establishment of a “special economic team” that will seek to “maximize the business potential” of the peace agreement.

“We all dream that soon, we will get to see businessmen and tourists visiting our countries freely, enjoying the beauty and charm of the State of Israel and visiting the holy sites of the three religions,” he said.

Israeli Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen welcomes a Bahraini delegation of key stakeholders in the tourism industry, led by Minister of Economy and Tourism Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani, at Ben Gurion Airport on December 1, 2020 (Courtesy)

Alzayani then headed to the Prime Minister’s Office for a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke of Israelis and Bahrainis being “eager to embrace one another, get to know one another, do business with one another, in all areas.”

“This is a real peace, a peace that will open economic benefits that were unimaginable just a few months ago,” the premier said. “This will broaden the circle of peace, not only for our own two peoples but for all countries in the region, and perhaps beyond.”

Alzayani thanked Netanyahu for his warm reception, noting that he had encountered much goodwill since landing in Israel. “The steps we are building today are everlasting steps for future generations,” he declared.

“We are fully committed. The pace we’re moving with is quite the fast pace because we want to catch up on lost time. We believe there is huge, immense potential.”

On Tuesday, shortly after Alzayani’s Gulf Air plane landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, he signed three memoranda of understanding and a joint declaration, covering technical cooperation, innovation and transfer of technology, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) ecosystems.

On Thursday, the Bahraini minister is planning to tour the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan and participate in a gathering of Israeli and Bahraini businesspeople before heading back to Manama.

Alzayani’s visit comes just two weeks after Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, became the first minister from the tiny Gulf kingdom to visit the Jewish state.

FM Ashkenazi, right, welcomes Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 18, 2020 (Miri Shimonovich/MFA)

Both Netanyahu and Ashkenazi had planned separate visits to Bahrain this week but postponed them at the Gulf kingdom’s request.

Netanyahu’s trip, which would be the first-ever officially announced visit to a Gulf Arab country by an Israeli prime minister, will reportedly take place in late December instead of next week.

Ashkenazi’s planned trip to Bahrain on December 3 had been delayed for unclear reasons. A spokesperson for the foreign minister said that Bahrain diplomatic protocol maintains that a head of state or government invited by the crown prince must visit before other cabinet members may do so.

Ashkenazi had been slated to participate in the IISS Manama Dialogue security conference, according to the ministry, and would have been the highest-ranking Israeli to visit the tiny island nation.

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