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Kohavi met Qatar military head in Bahrain to discuss cooperation, Iran UAVs – report

Saudi Elaph news site says army heads discuss Gulf state joining anti-Tehran pact; at US 5th fleet HQ, IDF chief says Israel built regional network of ‘strategic security partners’

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

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, right, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, salute as they enter NAVCENT headquarters, on March 10, 2022. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dawson Roth/US Navy Photo)
Vice Adm. Brad Cooper commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, right, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, salute as they enter NAVCENT headquarters, on March 10, 2022. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dawson Roth/US Navy Photo)

Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi met his Qatari counterpart during an official visit to Bahrain this week, despite limited relations between the countries, the Saudi-owned Elaph news site reported Friday.

According to the report, Kohavi and Salem bin Hamad bin Mohammed bin Aqeel Al Nabit discussed military cooperation between the countries in light of “recent developments in the region.”

The report also said the two discussed the possibility of Qatar joining a regional alliance against Iran’s aggression, specifically regarding the threat of UAVs.

The report said the two discussed the possibility of placing “advanced Israeli radars” in the Gulf state for early warning against Iranian drones and missiles.

Israeli military officials said this week they have seen a trend in Iranian drone attacks in recent years, dubbing it Iran’s “UAV terror.” Last month, Israeli television reported that Israel and its regional allies were developing a joint defense pact to protect against the threat of drones.

According to Elaph, the meeting between the military chiefs took place at the headquarters of the US Naval Forces Central Command, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Combined Maritime Forces, which are stationed in Bahrain.

The IDF said Kohavi met Thursday with the fleet’s commander, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, as well as his staff. Kohavi also met with several Bahraini senior military and state officials in Manama.

“[The visit] is another example of our ongoing strategic relationship with the United States, which is a significant pillar of our national security,” Kohavi was quoted as saying in a statement from the military.

“Over the past year, we have built a network of strategic-security partners in multiple countries in the Middle East. This network strengthens the strategic advantage we have over threats in the region,” he added.

(Left to right) Tal Kelman, head of the Strategic Division of the IDF Planning Directorate, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, Bahraini Defense Force chief of staff Theyab bin Saqr al-Nuaimi and other Bahraini defense officials are seen during a meeting in Bahrain, on March 10, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Qatar does not have normalized ties with Israel, but officials have been in contact with the Gulf state, as it is a key donor to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, distributing aid payments to Palestinian residents in the enclave.

Qatar once caused tensions with its Gulf neighbors due to its connections with Iran and with extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban, but has recently become a closer ally to Washington, with US President Joe Biden announcing last year he would designate the state as one of 17 major non-NATO allies, entitling the country to special benefits in defense trade and security cooperation.

Still, Qatar has ruled out the possibility that the Gulf state will normalize relations with Israel any time soon.

Kohavi returned to Israel from his visit to Bahrain on Friday, and immediately held a situational assessment with his deputy, Herzli Halevi, and head of the Operations Directorate, Oded Basiuk, the military said.

It was Kohavi’s first official trip to the Gulf state. He traveled alongside Tal Kelman, the military official in charge of the Iran section, as well as other senior commanders.

The visit comes nearly two years after normalization agreements — known as the Abraham Accords — were signed between Israel and Bahrain. 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 was 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.

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