Israeli army chief in Bahrain for first official visit

Kohavi, joined by IDF officer charged with Iran file, meets top Bahrani defense officials, will visit US 5th fleet stationed nearby

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (L) meets with chief of the Bahraini Defense Force, Theyab bin Saqr al-Nuaimi (R) in Bahrain, March 9, 2022. (Bahrain News Agency)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (L) meets with chief of the Bahraini Defense Force, Theyab bin Saqr al-Nuaimi (R) in Bahrain, March 9, 2022. (Bahrain News Agency)

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi traveled to Bahrain on Wednesday for a first official trip to the Gulf state. Kohavi traveled alongside Tal Kelman, the military official in charge of the Iran file, as well as other senior commanders, the IDF said in a statement.

Kohavi was greeted by the chief of the Bahraini Defense Force, Theyab bin Saqr al-Nuaimi, the IDF said. He was expected to also sit down with Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Defense Council, and other Bahraini senior military and state officials.

Despite it being an official visit, Kohavi was not seen wearing a military uniform in an image published by the state-run Bahrain News Agency.

Also during his visit to the Gulf, Kohavi is slated to meet with Brad Cooper, commander of the United States Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces at the fleet’s headquarters, which is stationed in the area.

“This visit is in addition to other recent meetings as part of the ongoing cooperation between the IDF and the US Armed Forces, which included the visit of the outgoing Commander of the United States Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie to Israel,” the IDF statement read.

Joining Kohavi and Kelman are Effie Defrin, the military’s international cooperation commander, and Amit Sa’ar, who leads Military Intelligence’s Research Division.

Deputy Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi is to command the military during Kohavi’s absence.

The first-ever official visit by the IDF chief comes nearly two years after normalization agreements — known as the Abraham Accords — were signed between the two countries. Last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz also visited the Gulf state for their first official trips.

Kohavi’s trip to Bahrain is thought to also focus on the cooperation between the two countries against Iran, amid speculation that a new international pact over its nuclear program may be in the offing.

The unit Kelman commands, the IDF’s Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate, focuses principally on Israel’s fight against Iran. Last year Kelman met briefly with Bahrain’s Undersecretary for International Relations during the latter’s visit to Israel.

File: Bahrain’s Undersecretary for International Relations Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa, right, meets with Tal Kelman, head of the Strategic Division of the IDF Planning Directorate in Israel, August 10, 2021. (IDF spokesperson/Twitter)

Negotiators on all sides have signaled in recent weeks that a potential agreement to revive the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is close. Last week, Gantz said a pact may be signed “in the coming weeks, perhaps even in the coming days.”

Still, talks have been sidetracked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The original 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but the US unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, who reimposed heavy economic sanctions.

That prompted Iran to begin rolling back its own commitments and enrich uranium to a purity level only a short technical step away from what is needed to produce nuclear weapons.

Israel has urged the international community to use more pressure on Iran, but has made little concrete progress.

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