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'Was there any good that came out of it? I do not think so'

In Israel, top Bahrain diplomat says Iran nuke deal fueled violence, chaos

Kingdom’s undersecretary for international relations says JCPOA has caused instability and deaths of innocents; blames Iran for conflicts across the region

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Bahrain's Undersecretary for International Relations Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa (c) shakes hands with JCPA President Dore Gold (l) at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, August 8, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Bahrain's Undersecretary for International Relations Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa (c) shakes hands with JCPA President Dore Gold (l) at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, August 8, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Visiting Israel on Sunday, a senior Bahraini diplomat blasted the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying that it had fueled violence and unrest across the region and caused the death of innocents.

“What did it leave us with?” Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa, Bahrain’s Undersecretary for International Relations, said of the accord at a press briefing at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. “More crises and more chaos in the region.”

Khalifa said Bahrain had hoped the accord, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), “would open up a new page for Iran and the region.

“But on the contrary, it has fueled crises across the Middle East. It has increased the number of refugees that have fled into Europe. It has caused more instigation of extremism and hatred in many different regions across the Middle East.”

Khalifa spoke during a four-day visit to Israel during which he will meet the president, prime minister and foreign minister.

“What we see is, speaking from a Bahraini perspective and the experience of my country with Iran, is continuous interference in domestic affairs in my country,” he continued. “Support of extremism and terrorism, continuous smuggling of arms and explosives and drugs and narcotics.”

Khalifa added that the JCPOA “has caused the death of tens of security forces and innocent civilians and thousands of injured security personnel.”

“What result did we get out of the JCPOA, remind me?” he said. “Was there any good result that came out of it? I do not think so. For us, we haven’t seen it.”

Fighters with Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces wave Iraqi flags while mourners and family members prepare to bury the body of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias who was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq, during his funeral procession in Najaf, Iraq, January 8, 2020. (Anmar Khalil/AP)

The 2015 accord signed between Tehran and world powers gave Iran relief from international sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.

The deal was torpedoed in 2018 by then-US president Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and imposed punishing sanctions on Iran. In response, Iran has also walked away from many of its commitments under the deal and has been enriching uranium to previously-unseen levels.

Former Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s government had been holding talks in Vienna since April on bringing Washington back into the agreement. But talks were frozen ahead of new President Ebrahim Raisi taking office last week.

An EU official said Saturday that a resumption of talks is likely in early September.

Like Israeli leaders, Khalifa said that the JCPOA was flawed because it focused only on Iran’s nuclear program: “It disregarded two other prime issues that the region is facing — namely [Tehran’s] ballistic missile program and the malign behavior of Iran… from what we have seen, the malign activities of Iran in the region are continuing.”

Bahraini anti-government protesters clash with police firing tear gas during clashes in Sanabis, Bahrain, Feb. 11, 2013 (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Khalifa related that Bahrain’s King Hamid ibn Isa al Khalida had sent a congratulatory note to Rouhani on the day of the JCPOA’s signing. Two days later, according to Khalifa, Bahraini security forces intercepted an illicit arms shipment from Iran headed for Bahrain.

“If you look into the crises across the Middle East, you will find one red thread that would go across all those crises,” he said. “You would find an Iranian finger.

“We want to see a stable Iran, a secure Iran, a prosperous Iran, a responsible Iran, a responsible member of the international community,” Khalifa said. “But we haven’t.”

A September Surprise

Bahrain and Israel officially recognized each other with the Abraham Accords normalization agreement at the White House in September 2020. The United Arab Emirates was also part of the agreement. The nations’ mutual enmity with Iran was seen as a driving factor for the deal.

In his Jerusalem briefing, Khalifa addressed the upcoming anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, and hinted that Israel would be pleasantly surprised on that date.

“Hopefully on the 15th of September, there will be some sort of demonstration that there is commitment” by the Biden Administration to the accords, he said with a smile.

From left to right: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani stand on the Blue Room Balcony during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Khalifa added that the current US administration, despite working to return to the nuclear deal, does recognize the importance of dealing with Iranian activities across the region.

He stressed that the US is fully committed to expanding the Abraham Accords. “We heard nothing but full support,” he said.

Bilateral ties between Israel and Bahrain will continue to grow, Khalifa pledged.

“This year there will be a direct line by our national carrier Gulf Air to Tel Aviv,” he said, explaining that the first flight had been slated to take place this past January but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are determined, we are committed,” he stressed. “Hopefully soon we will have Bahrain’s ambassador assuming his post in Israel.”

Khaled Yousef al-Jalahmah was officially appointed Bahrain’s envoy to Israel in June.

“The entire globe today is looking at this relationship and what it bears for the countries and for the people of those countries,” Khalifa said.

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