MANAMA, Bahrain — Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed a memorandum of understanding with his Bahraini counterpart on Thursday, formalizing the security relationship after the Gulf country normalized ties with Israel a year and a half ago.
Following the signing, the defense minister met with Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and then with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
According to Gantz’s office, the memorandum of understanding “will help advance intelligence cooperation, a framework for exercises, and cooperation between the countries’ defense industries.”
It is only Israel’s second memorandum of understanding with an Arab nation, the first being with Morocco, which Gantz signed late last year.
Gantz signed the agreement with Bahraini Defense Minister Abdullah Bin Hassan Al Nuaimi, alongside Commander-in-Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, at the Bahraini Defense Ministry headquarters in Manama.
“The strategic cooperation that we are bringing to a new high point today with the signing of this agreement and with the important meeting with the king is the continuation of the historic Abraham Accords and of the developing relationship between our nations and people,” Gantz said at the ceremony.
“Only a year after the signing of the accords, we are already here signing a significant security agreement, which will allow robust cooperation and strengthen the security of both countries and of the entire region,” the defense minister said.
After the signing, Al Nuaimi presented Gantz with a ceremonial sword.
The signing of the agreement came amid growing threats from Iran, both against Israel and countries in the Persian Gulf.
Gantz touched down in Bahrain on Wednesday evening, having flown in on an Israeli Air Force Boeing 707 refueling plane, which can also serve as a passenger plane, through Saudi airspace. It was the first time that an Israeli military plane had openly landed in Bahrain and flew through Saudi airspace, though there have been non-public flights in the past.
Speaking to reporters shortly after landing in Manama, the head of the Defense Ministry’s influential Political-Defense Bureau, Zohar Palti, said the nature of the flight was in itself a significant milestone.
“Landing here, with the defense minister of the State of Israel in an air force plane — that is history. That a country like Bahrain has a king who makes the decision to make ties [with Israel] — that is a significant and brave decision,” said Palti, whose office is responsible for maintaining Israel’s security relationships.
Openly landing an Israeli Air Force plane in Manama, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) across the Persian Gulf from Iran, was also designed to send a clear message to Tehran about the growing alliance forming against it that includes Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
At the same time, Palti noted that while the security dimension of the ties with Bahrain was of the utmost importance, Gantz was not the first Israeli minister to visit the country and other aspects of the relationship were also significant.
“The openness with Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco about security is unprecedented. At the same time, the fact that the defense minister with a delegation from the Defense Ministry is only coming after other ministries and other ministers, who have already been here and set up economic and civil relations, is a positive thing. We are in a period of relationships and ties between nations and people,” Palti said.
“Defense may be last in line, but it has importance and deeper significance than the rest,” he said.
Somewhat less influential than the other countries in the Persian Gulf, the petroleum-rich Bahrain is still considered a significant player in the region. It maintains a deep relationship with the US military, which bases its navy’s 5th Fleet in the island nation.
Earlier in the day, Gantz visited the 5th Fleet and hailed the growing ties between it and the Israeli Navy, following Israel’s move to the US military’s Central Command last year.
Both Israel and Bahrain consider Iran an enemy. For the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Islamic Republic represents a constant threat to 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 is focusing on unmanned naval systems and the use of artificial intelligence. It is 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.